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Alex Bell – ‘The Ninth Circle’

7 June, 2008

Ninth CircleI should start by saying that a lot of the books I’ve read recently have been really awful. I’m not going to name and shame them, but there have been at least two books over the past couple of months that I simply couldn’t finish. As such, The Ninth Circle was something of a refreshing change – I finished it, for a start and, on the whole, enjoyed it.

The blurb on the back of the book gives more than enough information as to the plot: Gabriel Antaeus wakes up on the floor of a flat in Budapest with no recollection of who he is, what he’s doing there or why there’s a big pile of money on the kitchen table. Someone starts sending him clues about his past, clues which refer to Hell. Not only does his book collection suggest that he previously had an interest in angels and demons, but he’s also having disturbing dreams and seeing odd things in mirrors.

Although there’s much more to the plot than that, and a few unexpected twists at the end, that’s really all you need to know before you start reading the book. Much of the emphasis within The Ninth Circle is on Gabriel’s past, alongside a twisty-turny plot in the present. Whilst I managed to guess a few of the plot reveals before they occurred, it was the ones that came as a surprise which were most satisfying, particularly when I could look back and see the clues that had been laid out beforehand, leading up to each particular revelation.

The emphasis on plot comes at a price, however. There are three main characters in the book and I wasn’t sure I knew any of them better by the end of the book than I had at the beginning. Gabriel in particular, despite learning the truth about his past, didn’t seem to undergo much in the way of character progression during the novel. Worse still, his belief in absolute, black and white statements of good and evil started to get a bit annoying – it was just repeated too many times.

This repetition is understandable, frustrating though it was, as the book is told in the form of Gabriel’s diary entries. Such a form isn’t an easy one to work with and there are times when infodumps and tortuous, yet not very revealing, internal monologue takes over. Thankfully, these don’t take up too much room and new revelations are kept coming thick and fast throughout the book.

So, to sum up: if you want a fantasy/thriller crossover that’s well paced, full of twists and turns and keeps you guessing, try The Ninth Circle. However, if you’re looking for a book with deep characterization and internal monologue that goes beyond the obvious, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Ultimately, this is a book that takes a strong plot over strong characters, which moves the story along quickly but left me feeling slightly unsatisfied at the end.

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