Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Reincarnationist

MotherTalk asked me to review The Reincarnationist, by M.J. Rose. I've never read any of Rose's other books, so she was a new novelist to me, and I had no idea of what to expect from this book.

This was a very complex novel comprising of many characters, and three distinct time periods. It had to be difficult to write, as all three eras intertwined to create one plot. Although I liked this book, I felt there were some distinct problems with it due to the complexity of the various storylines. First, the beginning of the book had a page or two that takes place in modern times, and then immediately switched to Roman times. This was confusing because the characters had not been developed which created a jarring feeling that I was reading the pages in incorrect order.

The present day character, JoshRyder is a professional photographer on assignment in Rome. While waiting for some visiting diplomats to arrive, he notices police investigating a young mother with a stroller. Just as he began to photograph the scene, there was a massive explosion that knocked Josh to the ground. When he awoke, he noted that he had gained the ability to mentally go back in time, first to Rome, and then later on to Edwardian New York City. Josh saw flashbacks, or, perhaps, memories, of events that seem to have happened to him 1,600 years earlier, in another life.

Josh is drawn to the Phoenix Foundation, a group that investigates reincarnation in children. He begins to work with the directors of the Phoenix Foundation both to discover his own past life flashbacks, which dominate his life, but also to help the society photograph auras that surround those with past lives.

On business, Josh returns to Rome to see a newly discovered tomb thought to be one of the Vestal Virgins from 391 a.d. He awakes from his hotel room very early in the morning and starts walking through Rome, realizing that he recognizes certain buildings and areas, and comes across the tomb hours before his appointment. However, the Professor leading the dig is there, and brings Josh down into the tomb where he sees the virgin in a crawling position, perfectly petrified. In her hand is a wooden box that contains 6 gemstones believed to be sacred magical 'Memory Stones' used to see past lives. While the "Memory Stones" have value as the massive gemstones they are, their true worth is only legend. But, if true, they could change the face of organized religion and humanity as we know them today.

Josh finds a secret tunnel in the tomb and starts to dig his way into the tunnel leaving the Professor behind. He hears noises and climbs back to the tomb to witness a guard shooting the Professor and stealing the stones in the box.

The Professor's murder begins the search for the stones, as Josh and the Professor's assistant Gabriella Chase try desperately to decipher the messages on the stones, as well as finding the stones themselves.

M.J. Rose weaves a complicated story in The Reincarnationist, unraveling a mystery across millennia and multiple lives. The narrative might have been more tightly constructed: there are questions left unanswered and characters who seem important but melt away; the subplot of Rebecca Palmer, whose hallucinatory experiences of past lives intersect with Josh's and prove so important to the plot, is forgotten about for a long stretch of the story. But the book is quite suspenseful in parts, and it has the great advantage of ending well, which is to say that the denouement is fitting but neither predictable nor easy. The book is an interesting premise for a novel but not as tightly written as I would have liked. The ending was both a surprise and a disappointment, and seemed to have been hastily decided as a way to wrap up the story. I think a better ending could have made this a better novel.

Thriller fans will probably see the ultimate villain coming at least a couple hundred pages before the wrapup. Fortunately, Rose introduces a wealth of evil characters to distract the reader and maintain our interest level. I would have liked to see more in the way of character development, an explanation of how learning of past lives really could lead to power, a more sympathetic protagonist, and less use of coincidence. Still, Rose's prose is satisfying and, despite its flaws, The Reincarnationist is a page-turning read.