Saturday, July 5, 2008

book review: The Wheel Of Darkness

"Lest into the Dharma you unchain
An uncleanness of evil and pain,
And darkness about darkness wheel,
The Agozyen you must not unseal."

I just finished reading The Wheel Of Darkness, the latest mystery-slash-horror novel by the writing team of Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child. If you are not familiar with the duo, they are the guys who penned the novel that was later turned into the 1997 horror flick The Relic (that was the one with the Brazilian hypothalamus-eating lizard monster running rampant in the museum, 'member? Great flick) The eccentric FBI agent played by Tom Sizemore in the movie- Special Agent Pendergast- is a recurring character in the Preston-Child novels, and he plays a starring role in this latest novel as well.

In Darkness, Pendergast (along with his apprentice, Constance Greene- another recurring character Preston-Child universe) is on the trail of a mysterious Pandora's-Box-esque artifact which was stolen from a remote, secretive Tibetian monastery. The article in question is known only as the 'Agozyen'. Not even the monks who guard it know what it is, or even know what is actually contained in it's box; they know only that it wields a unique and very dangerous power, one that can 'cleanse' humankind, and it's up to Pendergast to retrieve the stolen Agozyen before it can be unleashed on the world. His chase leads him aboard the Brittania- a massive luxury liner on it's maiden voyage across the icy Atlantic to New York City, as he hunts for the thief-turned-killer and tries to find the Agozyen before it's too late.

This book is chockful of mystery, history, horror and suspense- staples of the Preston-Child novels. There's a wicked serial killer, a sinister supernatural force, and all manner of dangers-at-sea for Pendergast to contend with, but in this novel his biggest foe is ultimately himself as the Agozyen works it's dark magic on him. I love the Pendergast character- he is (here, as in the other novels he's featured in) strange, smart, and charmingly eccentric... a tall, pale man all dressed in black who investigates the most paranormal and perplexing crimes, kind of like one part Sherlock, one part Mulder, one part James Bond, and a dash of Johnny Cash thrown into the mix. I can totally picture David Bowie playing him in another Pendergast movie (sorry Tom Sizemore!) The cruise ship setting is ridiculously lavish and lusciously detailed, echoing a modern-day Titanic (a comparison that proves to be even more deadly accurate as the story progresses), and the ship becomes more suffocatingly claustrophobic and inescapable with every turn.

This is one of those books that you can pick up and read all the way through. The characters are finely drawn, the dangers are seriously terrifying, the mysteries are truly mysterious, and there is also a wet, red smear of gore running throughout the tale- they don't hold back in that department. The Agozyen is a truly scary and thought-provoking foe. And it's twisted good fun to watch the 'proper', upper crust passengers and the privileged bubble of the fancy cruise ship deteriorate into mad, sordid chaos as things begin to go terribly, terribly wrong.

One thing I like about the Preston-Child novels is that they have the feel of a quickly-moving action flick, but they still have substance and depth in regards to the villains, the protagonists, and the motivations and consequences of their deeds- there is no fluffy stuff here. In fact these books are pretty dark, and yet they are 'light' (in terms of being a fun, entertaining, easy read) at the same time, a perfect summer reading alternative for those who aren't into the usual beach reading fare. Another cool thing about the series is that while there is an overall story arc to them, it's not totally necessary to read them in order to enjoy them, and there are many interesting crossover characters from book to book tying the whole universe of the novels together. So far I've only read 2 of their novels (and seen The Relic of course) but this one has convinced me to go out and find more Preston-Child novels to read, I'd recommend them to anyone who digs serious horror fiction with a lot of strange twists, interesting characters, historical references, and an X-Files vibe.

For more on the Pendergast novels and other works by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child visit their official website. Happy reading.


Anonymous said...

One. Wish I had the time and concentration to read a novel like that.

Two. Why / how do you / what's it like to expose yourself to scary stuff like this, being the highly sensitive person that is so often pestered by the paranoia of your illness?
To put it plainly; if your body can make you feel so darned scared when you don't want to, how is at that you would like reading and watching scary stuff by choice? I obviously don't have any experience with this at all; it's just that I would think if my body would play tricks on me like that, I think I would abolish scary stuff by choice in my life.
I've been wondering about that for some time since I "know" you =)

Shady said...

Netherest.... Well, as for #1, I cannot sleep at night unless I read a little first. It seems to help calm my brain down so I read every single night and I am a freakishly fast reader, I've already read 3 books since I finished this one!

#2 Ya know, I have been asked this question before. And it's kind of hard to explain. Horror was my first love, way back before I really had any of these problems. I have adored the horror genre since I was a toddler, I'm serious. When I was a kid I used to wait up for my Dad to come home from work (he's a musician, so he'd get home at like, 3 am) and when he'd get home, we'd sit up and make sandwiches and watch old b&w horror movies on the tube. I loved it! He also had a collection of full-color coffee table books about the horror genre and I pretty much learned to read on those, I was fascinated with them (and I have recently inherited the crumbling old horror book collection, awesome!) I guess what I am saying is, to me horror is fantasy and escapism, not serious and real.... and the things I watch and read about are in a whole other realm from the things that actually scare me in real life. And when I am watching a horror movie and I get 'scared', I can just turn it off, so it's not an out of control experience like my MDD episodes. But I never actually get scared watching/reading horror, in fact I am addicted to the genre and I watch more horror movies than anyone I know ;)