Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Wheel of Darkness - Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

2007; 385 pages. Genre : Thriller. Overall Rating : B.
Someone has stolen the Agozyen {"Darkness"} from a remote Tibetian lamasary. NBD, except that it has the power (indeed it has the destiny) to annihilate mankind from the face of the earth so that the world can begin anew. That's a bummer for us humans.
FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene, need to track down the thief and recover the purloined power object. They end up on a luxury liner, where things go amok when they realize that the "darkness" has already been unleashed.
What's To Like...
The plot is action-packed and fast-paced. There are several unexpected twists, including the "Hero vs. Ultimate Evil" confrontation. The plot is a bit formulaic (a bunch of terrified people trapped in a confined space, with a monster rampaging about), but it is convincingly done. There is even some Holmesian logic involved, as Pendergast has to somehow quickly and deductively narrow the suspect-list down from the 2700 passengers on board.
The negatives are few and mere trifles. There's a certain bumblingness (I doubt that's a real word) about the monks. The monster isn't all that scary. Then there's a small incident that piques one of my literary peeves. To wit...
Just once I'd like to see...
The commander of the ship, Commodore Cutter, is a real butthead. That's fine. A "Caine Mutiny" situation develops, and he is subsequently relieved of his leadership role. Later on, for reasons I won't give due to spoiler concerns, it is expedient that the crew again avail themselves of his services. They find him sulking in his quarters, and with gritted teeth, offer him his job back.
Alas, Commodore Cutter has no redeeming qualities. He spurns the offer, leaving the crew to a seemingly hopeless fate. My peeve is this - how come 99% of the characters in Action/Thriller/Alt-History stories have to be either black or white? Just once I'd like to see some "grayness". It would've been nice here to see Commodore Cutter accept their offer and contribute to the resolving of the issue, albeit without stealing the spotlight from our intrepid hero. If nothing else, it would've added a bit of complexity to him.
But I digress. The Wheel of Darkness is a worthwhile thriller; keeping me on the edge of my seat and turning the pages as the situation became more and more dire. This was my second Preston & Child book {"Relic" was the first} , and it is obvious that they make a good team for writing contemporary novels in this genre. I'm sure I'll be reading more of the series.
The Wheel of Darkness
By: Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child
Amazon Price: $7.99


Amanda said...

"My peeve is this - how come 99% of the characters in Action/Thriller/Alt-History stories have to be either black or white? Just once I'd like to see some "grayness"."

You just pointed out one of my issues with genre fiction!! This is exactly why I can't read, say, a Dan Brown book. The characters aren't real enough. The plot may be interesting, but without real people to move it along, I'm just not interested. (And, in the case of Dan Brown, the writing's so awful I can't take it anyway.)

I would love to see someone write genre fiction with real characters. Unfortunately, no one would publish it.

Trixie said...

I think the problem with writing real people as characters is that it takes too long.
Readers of genre fiction can't stand it when their author doesn't have another story right behind it. (I'm generalizing.) Genre fiction is addicting like soap operas. (Let's see if that gets any comments back.)

Unknown said...

Actually, just to be fair, there ARE genre fiction novels with ambiguous, even complex characterizations. On the one hand, you have the subtle, but still heroic, such as Tolkien, where there is evil, but good characters, no matter how good, are tempted by evil - Frodo resolves to keep the ring before Gollum bites it off, Gollum is pitiable even as he is a villain, Boromir, Galadriel struggling with the temptation of the ring, etc, etc, etc. On the other hand, you have a book like Dune, where characters are immensely multi-faceted - one of the heroines of the series, St. Alia, is famous for walking the battlefields, stabbing the wounded with a poisoned knife so that they can die. Neuromancer, is another beautiful example. There is also books with grey characters that are trash, anyway - the sci-fi genre, frankly, is infamous for arrogant self-importance, as far as I'm concerned, and there's no shortage in fantasy either.

Amanda said...

When did all those come out, Jase? Were they in the last 10-15 years? I wonder how much role the internet (and the instant-processing attitude that comes along with it) has played into genre fiction...but that might be totally off base.

You're right, some genre authors write with depth. But it's a rare minority, which is why I avoid modern fiction. Trixie, I agree with you on the fact that it takes a long time to write real people, and books with tons of layers underneath. One of the hardest things about the Harry Potter series is that she had to come out with a new book every two years, and I think some - particularly the last one - could have been far better had she worked on it longer.

Trixie said...

The force I felt to read Harry Potter quickly was extremely annoying, but I do think that if I had read the series (especially the last 2 books) slowly or more closely, there may have been plot gaps evident.
I do look forward to re-reading Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz with my daughter in a few years. (She's almost 3).

Amanda said...

There were, especially in book 7. I didn't read the series until after #6 came out, and then I read it so many times that I practically have the entire volume memorized, and when you do that, you start noticing all the little problems: plot inconsistancies, grammatical errors, annoying word repetitions, etc. But I don't feel like my love for the series has diminished any for my bizarre obsessiveness.

I read book 4 to our oldest this past summer, and I plan to start reading book 1 to the middle child in November, if he's interested.