The Next Generation
By Dana Gavin
(Works which have been compared to THE EIGHT)
(1988) The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho; (1993) English publication
This elegant allegorical novel, despite its title, doesn’t necessarily involve alchemy in the literal sense, but is, rather, a meditation on the nature of transformation. A boy named Santiago pursues the truth of his elaborate dreams by journeying to the pyramids in search of treasure. Along the way, he has more than a few adventures, each based upon a simple life truth that presses him forward in his quest. The Alchemist uses the tried and true storytelling concept of the Quest, but delivers these archetypical conventions through a new lens. Young Santiago is a fresh protagonist to follow as he searches for truth of his Personal Legend.
It is of interest that—of all the books which have been compared with The Eight over the past twenty years— The Alchemist, Coelho’s first book, was actually copyrighted and published in the same year as Neville’s first book—though was not translated into English until several years later. Katherine Neville, in interviews, has often pointed out the surprising fact that these two novels, each translated into so many languages today, had actually emerged upon the page at precisely the same moment. “It demonstrates for me,” Neville says, “that by 1988, people all over the world were ready to begin a new quest.”
(1990) The Flanders Panel, by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Chess is certainly a mysterious and allegorical game: Perez-Reverte uses the game of strategy as launch pad for his mystery. Modern-day art restorer Julia is fascinated to uncover a secret message in a fifteenth century Flemish painting depicting two men playing chess – “Who killed the knight?” As she embarks on a quest to answer the question (and to solve the apparent murder), her contemporaries begin to die under mysterious circumstances. Julia, accompanied by her dear old friend César, and Muñoz, a local chess master, is determined not only to discover what happened to the Duke of Flanders and his knight, but also to stay alive!
Katherine Neville stated in a Spanish interview that she feels it is of enormous interest that Perez-Reverte’s chess-themed book was published within a year of The Eight and contained so many puzzles, encryptions, and historically-grounded mysteries. Yet another instance of synchronicity!
(1990) Possession: A Romance, by A. S. Byatt
If you like historical intersections with soulful romance (yes, the title gives it away), Possession is a heart-tugging novel that mingles letters, diaries, poetry, and narration to tell the tale of fictional poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. Contemporary academics Roland Michell and Maud Bailey work to reveal the exact nature of Ash and LaMotte’s relationship, playing literary detectives as they dissect the poets’ language. The truth is revealed to be far more complex than a footnote in a scholarly publication, and Michell and Bailey are personally affected by their investigations.
This was one of the first novels following The Eight, which deployed the technique of historic-modern interplay and the solution of a mystery that happened in the past.
(1993) Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard
Tom Stoppard (also the co-screenwriter of Shakespeare in Love) wrote this play, with enough historical fiction to entice fans of The Eight who miss being entangled with the likes of Napoleon, Catherine the Great and other figures of real life history. A lovely English country house becomes the fixed point between two worlds: that of 1809 (with Lord Byron as a guest who is always expected but never appears onstage) and of 1989 (with a writer and two academics attempting to suss out the mystery of the past). Precocious, witty women populate both worlds, and, as ever with Stoppard, clever repartee about rice pudding slides right up against discussions of chaos theory!
Neville has gone on record as stating that Arcadia has likely captured the closest approximation to the feeling of The Eight, as any work to-date. This wonderful play, she says, has inspired countless theatregoers to experience a sense of history-in-the making.
(1997) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or (1998 U.S.) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling
This first novel in the series introduces Harry Potter, a young wizard who has been orphaned and has to learn of his magical heritage on his own. Harry becomes a pupil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he must contend with antagonistic fellow students, a cranky Potions teacher, and the mysterious circumstances of his survival while his parents perished at the hands of the evil wizard Voldemort. Harry’s story, spanning the seven-book series, is a quest to learn the truth about the death of his parents, as well as to ultimately defeat his archenemies, the Death Eaters. In this first book, Harry and his best friend, Ron Weasley, must master a giant chess set in order to continue along their way to solving the central mystery. Potions are mixed, spells are cast, and players are manipulated in every direction as the narrative barrels along towards the ultimate showdown.
The parallels between this first Harry Potter book and The Eight were very inspiring to Katherine Neville, who was delighted to see her favorite themes embraced by so many young readers: first, the chess game just mentioned; next, the encryptions, maps and puzzles to be solved. And last but not least: Nicolas Flamel, the medieval alchemist, whose works hold the key to the “Philosopher’s Stone” who was actually, in real life, influenced by his great predecessor, Al Jabir ibn Hayyan, the father of Islamic Alchemy. Al-Jabir was the major figure in Neville’s two books, The Eight and The Fire!
(2002) The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L. Carter
Professor Talcott Garland has just buried his father, and he inherits a complicated mystery in the form of a cryptic note bequeathed to him and a charge to carry out his father’s final “arrangements.” Chess strategy becomes a key to solving the puzzle of the scandal that ultimately brought down his great father, The Judge. Garland is a pawn in his own right, deciphering his father’s seemingly nonsensical wishes and notes, only to be caught up in Washington, D.C.’s underbelly, all the while trying to maintain his weakening marriage even as he suspects his dear wife of infidelity. On top of all of this, someone is trying to kill him – corrupt waters run deep, and Garland has to dig through the proverbial D.C. trenches to unearth his father’s dark secrets.
The parallels with Neville’s chess-themed book, The Eight, are based on the fact that Carter’s chess-themed detective mystery involves a chess puzzle planted in an earlier era.
AND OTHER BOOKS: All have been compared with The Eight. In most cases, the authors are not only in agreement—but are friends of Katherine Neville!
(2003) The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
Blending art, mysticism, occult practices, Roman Catholic lore and “symbology,” The Da Vinci Code sets Professor Robert Langdon on the trail of an adventure that tests his skills and his faith (or lack thereof). As he examines clues in paintings and in manuscripts, Langdon attempts to decipher symbols, signs and math puzzles in an effort to understand the battle between the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei, and the true nature of Jesus’s relationship with Mary Magdalene. Historical and literary figures such as Sir Isaac Newton and Alexander Pope are invoked as part of the mystery as Langdon challenges the tenets of the Church as well as conventional wisdom regarding Da Vinci’s (in) famous, “The Last Supper.”
(2004) The Secret Supper, by Javier Sierra (2006 English)
Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” is again the focus of an art-cum-religious mystery, but this time the mystery is firmly ensconced in the late fifteenth century, as da Vinci paints the possibly treacherous scene in question. An unknown figure called “the Soothsayer” is communicating with the Papal State, advising that art can be deployed as a great weapon. Father Agostino Leyre is sent to Milan to investigate da Vinci’s possible heresies, as well as uncover the person behind the cryptic Soothsayer. What messages could da Vinci’s art have embedded within? And what could they mean to the Holy Roman Church? Codes must be broken, secrets must come to light and ancient practices of the Catholic faith must be brought into the light as Leyre comes to understand “The Last Supper” in full.
(2006) The Book of Fate, by Brad Meltzer
During a botched assassination attempt, presidential aide Wes Holloway is shot in the face and disfigured while Chief of State Ron Boyle is killed – or was he? Holloway stays in the employ of former President Leland Manning; after eight years, he is convinced that he’s seen Boyle, disfigured but definitely alive. In order to protect Manning and the former First Lady, Holloway has to crack a two hundred-year-old code and uncover the secrets of the Freemasons, all to lead him to understanding who “The Three” might be.
(2006) Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse
Two women, separated by 800 years, are both after the same treasure: The Holy Grail. 21st century Alice Tanner discovers a hidden cave while on an archeological dig in southwest France, and is flooded with memories of an ancient time. In the 13th century, Alaïs is living in the French city of Carcassone, currently under siege by the Crusaders, when her dying father entrusts her with a sacred text, part of a trilogy of such books that lead to the Holy Grail. Evil villainesses stand in the way of both Alice and Alaïs, as they battle to prevent the Grail from falling into corrupt hands that would use the inherent power for nefarious purposes.
(2006) The Last Templar, by Raymond Khoury
In present day Manhattan, four masked horsemen in the costume of the Knights Templar storm the Metropolitan Museum in search of an ancient treasure in the midst of a Vatican exhibition. Archeologist Tess Chaykin is a witness to the bizarre theft, and teams with FBI agent Sean Reilly to solve the mystery behind stolen artifact and why horsemen keep dying. The key to the riddle may lie in the thirteenth century with a young Templar knight called Martin of Carmaux and his mentor, Aimard of Villiers, who were tasked with protecting a mysterious chest, but who went missing themselves. Chaykin and Reilly chase clues through Turkey and Greece, right to the heart of the Vatican, uncovering the mysteries of the order of the Templars and the mysteries of faith.
(2008) The Charlemagne Pursuit, by Steve Berry
Cotton Malone appears as the embattled protagonist of five Berry novels – he’s an ex–government agent turned bookseller who travels the globe chasing down mysteries that involve such luminaries as the ancient Library of Alexandria and the Great Devise, an ancient Templar archive. Berry takes on the Montglane Service’s noble owner in The Charlemagne Pursuit (2008), which has Malone knee-deep in a historical mystery involving Charlemagne’s tomb, Nazis, his long-dead father, ancient manuscripts and submarines. An underground city in Antarctica may hold the answers to more than just one question.
Steve Berry’s books have—even since well before Cotton Malone appeared as a character—for instance, in The Amber Room and The Romanov Prophecy—always been inspired by the same themes and ideas as those that have inspired Neville in her own work.
THE QUEST CONTINUES!
About Dana Gavin:
Journalist Dana Gavin is the editor of the “Weekend” section of The Hudson Valley News. A graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where she studied creative writing, Gavin–a seasoned ballet dancer–was also dance critic for the Dallas Morning News and a frequent contributor to Dance, the publication of the Dance Council, as well as Dance Magazine and other local magazines. Currently, she resides in Hyde Park, New York, and continues to write about arts and culture.