Originally published November 3rd, 2013
I fell in love at the first sentence of this book. I’m a huge Terry Pratchett fan, and one of his quirks is the use of capitals to add grandeur to an otherwise ordinary event. So when Fasman had his journalist refer to printing day as “The Day the Paper Comes Out”(3) I was certain this was going to be the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. Turns out I was wrong. The first couple of chapters were pretty good, but once the honeymoon phase wore off the relationship soured quickly. Quirks that were endearing for the first hundred pages became niggling irritations. Fasman’s sense of humour started to remind me of Stephen Leacock. And while Leacock’s jokes work in a fully comedic piece, I had difficulty integrating them in a mystery when they only cropped up once in a while. I came to dislike his only supporting female character, Hannah Rowe. Either she had serious emotional issues (that never got mentioned), or Fasman had a tough time writing an enigmatic but realistic love interest for his leading man. As if he was thinking to himself, “Well I don’t understand women, so it won’t matter if no one understands Hannah.” The last chapter is told from her point of view. It answered a few questions, but the answers were so unsatisfying and shallow I cringed while I read it.
What possible reason could Hannah have for believing she needed to put up with Jaan’s “groping” and “ogling?” (370) Her dad is a jerk and she has a bad relationship with him, so she’s punishing herself for rejecting her father by forcing herself to put up with sexual harassment from a man who reminds her of her father? That’s not a reason, that’s a stereotype.
I also don’t understand the importance of the items taken from al-Idrisi’s library at the beginning of the book. They are all historically important alchemical items, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason for their history to be included in the book. Or for people to be searching for most of them. Some of them have special powers, but most of them are just antiques. Why go to all the trouble to collect them?
It’s so important these objects stay hidden that their previous owners and anyone else involved in their sale is murdered, but Fasman never explains why their obscurity is so crucial.
Some of them are valuable or powerful, but it seems like most of them are just old. An interesting but distracting subplot? By the time we’re halfway down the list, I wanted a flow chart to keep track of who owned what when, who stole it, and for whom. It does add depth to some of the characters. Being distracting isn’t quite enough reason to justify taking the history of the library out, although maybe it could have been integrated better. Maybe I was hoping for more out of this book than it was able to provide. I think with time we’ll be able to have a stable and satisfying relationship. But for now I just need some time apart. I think it’s time we read other books.