Monday, November 12, 2012

The School of Night: Review

The School of Night by Louis Bayard has a really interesting premise.  He starts with a secret society made up of Sir Walter Raleigh (oops, Ralegh--don't ask me why we've decided to ditch the "I"), Christopher "Kit" Marlowe, Thomas Harriot and others....the School of Night.  A group of men who dare to think about such forbidden topics as alchemy and paganism, who question the existence of God and the meaning of life.  In modern times, a page of a letter from Raleigh to Harriot comes to light and with it the promise of a hidden treasure.  

Raleigh scholar and ousted academic, Henry Cavendish is drawn into the treasure hunt by his former friend and confidante, Alonzo Wax.  Cavendish, Wax, and a mysterious woman named Clarissa work together to decipher Harriot's coded treasure map on the back of the letter....they're in a race against time and against the letter's alleged owner.  A man with a load of wealth and a couple of heavy-duty thugs to back him up when push comes to shove.  What treasure lies buried in the spot marked X on the map....and who will wind up with it?  Those are the questions in Bayard's book.

As I said, an interesting premise.  The synopsis grabbed me and made me want to read the book.  But the book didn't live up to the promise.  I really didn't find myself invested in the characters.  Cavendish is a bit of a loser.  And he didn't win me over as the underdog who will make good--the man down-on-his-luck who deserves better, so cheer him on!  I really didn't care if he and his friends decoded the map and found the treasure or not.  And....when they finally do decode the map...well, let me just say that it's all a bit of a let-down.  

There is also the disjointed juggling of the current day treasure hunt story and the flashbacks to the days of Harriot.  That didn't work so well either.  Clarissa supposedly has visions (or nightmares or visitations or some such thing) where she "sees" what's going on back in Harriot's day.  And, other than being the only way Bayard seemed to be able to think of to tell us all that historical stuff, it was all kind of pointless. The flashbacks didn't help Cavendish & company find the treasure, decode the map or anything.  They were just there.  Not very effective.  But the funny thing is, Bayard's writing is so compelling that I had to finish the darn thing anyway.  I couldn't NOT read it.  Now I'm going to have to try another of his books just to see if he can write a better story.  'Cause a better story with his compelling writing style would be pretty awesome indeed.  Two and a half stars for this one.  Just.

1 comment:

Kimberlee said...

I have been eyeballing this book for a while and I'm sad that it didn't live up to expectations. I might just have to skip this one then. Great review.