Would you pay the ultimate price for the ultimate knowledge? I have never written down the answers to the deepest mysteries, nor will I ever....
The philosopher Plato wrote these words more than 2,000 years ago, following a perilous voyage to Italy - an experience about which he never spoke again, but from which he emerged the greatest thinker in all of human history. Today, 12 golden tablets sit in museums around the world, each created by unknown hands and buried in ancient times, and each providing the dead with the route to the afterlife.
Archaeologist Lily Barnes, working on a dig in southern Italy, has just found another. But this tablet names the location to the mouth of hell itself. And then Lily vanishes. Has she walked out on her job, her marriage, and her life - or has something more sinister happened? Her husband, Jonah, is desperate to find her. But no one can help him: not the police, and not the secretive foundation that sponsored her dig. All Jonah has is belief, and a determination to do whatever it takes to get Lily back.
But like Plato before him, Jonah will discover the journey ahead is mysterious and dark and fraught with danger. And not everyone who travels to the hidden place where Lily has gone can return.
©2013 Tom Harper (P)2013 Hodder & Stoughton
"Tom Harper has been writing elaborate thrillers that marry ironclad narrative skills with some of the most elegantly understated writing in the field; he's the thinking person's Dan Brown. Actually, Harper deserves the latter's success - and more, as Harper is comfortably the better writer." (Barry Forshaw)
"Harper effortlessly draws the reader into an unfamiliar time, bringing alive the characters and their motivations." (Publishers Weekly)
I'm going to start with a quasi-contradiction to my rating -- because somewhere in that blurriness between fact and fiction, history and mythology, I learned to love a good story. The fuzzy area gives *possibility* the power to challenge *probability* -- it gives storytellers license to go for it and tell readers to hang on and enjoy a fantastical ride. Harper inhabits that gray area with verve, combining history, philosophy, mythology, mysticism, archeology into a dual-timeline thriller. So, contrary to my 2* rating, I say if you like the premise, go for it and enjoy the ride. The mythology Harper has built his story on has stood the test of time; it's entertaining with a dose of a contemporary mystery thrown in, and this audio version is well produced. I'd also warn you to prepare for a shift. Listening got more tedious as I went on, and I have to blame that on Harper's literal descent.
Orpheus was a musician that had the "ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music." [Wikipedia ..."To be a rock and not to roll"...Led Zeppelin] "No one under the spell of his voice could refuse him anything." When he dared to attempt to bring his wife Eurydice back from the realm of the underworld, he strummed his golden lyre and it was said all the inhabitants of Hell were charmed. And as the legend goes, he alone made it out. Throughout the story, the ancient philosopher Plato is on the heels of friend Agathon, who has disappeared while on a journey for a mysterious *book*. We learn the book is actually a golden tablet said to contain sacred information about the meaning of life and the afterlife: *the ultimate knowledge of the universe,* and the *keys to Hell.* Plato tells the reader this part of the tale in a distant echo-y quality (perhaps to simulate the sound of speaking from a cave; as in Plato's Allegory of the Cave).
Interspersed with Plato's chapters is the contemporary storyline of Jonah and Lily. Jonah is just returning from a semi-successful world tour with his disintegrating rock band when he learns that his wife Lily has disappeared from a mysteriously funded archeological dig to unearth a legendary golden tablet. The tablet is surrounded in myth, linked to several similar golden tablets already in museums around the world, each providing parts of the *ultimate knowledge* that so changed Plato's teachings. This one may hold keys to immortality, and Lily's whereabouts.
Like Eurydice and Orpheus, Jonah and Lily were young and in love. "So deep was their love that they were practically inseparable. So dependent was their love that each felt they could not live without the other." His family and friends tell Jonah Lily has left the marriage, but his heart tells him she loves him, and that there is trouble afoot. Indeed, we learn, there is trouble, cabals, and even a sorceress conspiring against the couple. Friends can't be trusted, neither can his own sense of reality.
It's commendable that Harper keeps the integrity of the classical Greek mythology in his ambitious plotting. By constructing parallel, yet independent stories, that seem to be racing neck and neck toward similar thematic conclusions, he has written a book that holds your attention...for the most part. From an engaging and promising beginning, Harper seems to lurch ahead, losing finesse and sophistication. It is almost as if there was a change of authors. The form slackens, mysteries unravel, and suddenly it feels like a shift into one of Percy Jackson's Olympian adventures. In between the two storylines appears a threatening middle specter...the harbinger of anticlimax (that may be in part due to the foreknowledge of the story of Orpheus). And if that isn't enough of a buzz kill, you face the challenges of melding the authors grand concepts with your own comprehension, and hanging in there with a read that seems to have been hijacked for a YA audience -- which wasn't what I was looking for, as much as I enjoyed all of Percy's exploits.
Didn't read the book.
Wasn't sure how it was to be resolved until the very end.
The Sophist was very impressive.
A unique listen, with enough mystery and history to keep the listener engaged. I really enjoyed this presentation, and the narration is outstanding. Recommended!
"Myth Reworked - Badly"
I read the blurb for this book and it sounded so good that I bought it without waiting for my monthly credits. I shouldn't have bothered.
The first few chapters are exciting, making the reader want to race on to find out how the plot is going to develop. Unfortunately, the rest of the book fails to live up to this promising beginning. The first mistake is that the current day mystery is wrapped around a dramatised tale of Plato's visit to Italy; the narratives in no way mirror each other and the author should have concentrated on just one.
The Plato story is one that has been revisited many, many times over the last two and a half millennia. Everything that could possibly have been said has been said and the author should have left well alone. The other strand of the book is basically a modern day version of the "Orpheus and Euridice" myth. Again, this has been done to death over the centuries and this is not one of the better versions. It starts well, but fizzles out and even the ending is predictable and not particularly well plotted out.
In the book's defence, the narrators did a sterling job. The exception to this is the quotation from Plato read at the beginning of each strand of that part of the story; it was recorded using an echo chamber mike and made it sound like the start of a cheap rock music track (an album track at that!). This was totally unnecessary.
In summary, this book attempts to be too many things and, as is usual with such things, fails to do any of them well.
Out of the two parallel stories I preferred the modern day saga, enjoying the slow unfolding mystery. It has an esoteric feel and quite often I have to admit I had to re-listen to various passages and struggled to get my head round some of the philosophical theories, at the end I came out a little richer in my scant knowledge on the subject. Nicely written but have put on my try again pile and hope to do the book justice. Did not enjoy it as much as I thought I should.
"Way above the usual thriller"
One of the best audiobooks I've read and nothing quite like it.
The present day and referencing the past as the present day bringing to life the day to day of the great philosophers.
The interpretation of the characters.
Waiting for the next book
Disappointing in that the blurb sounded really interesting, but although I liked the narration itself I didn't feel that there was a rationale behind the two story times. I actually preferred the Classical Greek time, but the ending really didn't seem to come off.
"Did I like it?"
Well...It proved interesting. Unusual narration that grew on me quickly and fit the story well.
Some thought provoking moments and nice interplay between past and present. The story did appear to lose its way toward the end. Shame as a good ending would have given a 5 star rating.
"A Story that Descends into Nonsense"
I enjoyed the general idea of the story but felt it could have been executed with more passion and excitement. A lot of the ideas have now become such old hat that they could have been plucked from a British TV drama series. A rock star main character, a dysfunctional group of wealthy and highly educated university graduates, a clever look at the past with much historical name dropping.
The whole lead up to the end and the ending are extremely dissapointing. The whole narrative disintergrates into a trippy nonsense which really left me feeling I should have dropped out and not tuned in.
The narration is really well read, in particular by Gareth Armstrong. Kris Milnes voice jars a little at first against Gareth's but once the listener gets used to the swinging narrative between the two it becomes less so.
There are similar books out there which have been written with more decisive and satidfactory narrative. Well read but best left alone.
"Sad waste of talent"
Everyone's taste is different, so I normally hesitate to offer my personal view, but I was so disappointed with this book I felt compelled to comment.
I would not detract from the narration, which is excellent, but as to the book.
The author demonstrates an ability to transport you to the various locations, and create an empathy with his characters.. So why then does he use a hackneyed storyline - interpersed with platitudes and sophistry and an ending reminscent of a rock stars take on an LSD trip.
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