Iblame my California public school education for the fact that I spent a good third of The Fire confused. See, there's some historical stuff about Charlemagne and Lord Byron, and a desert place that may or may not have been the Middle East or Egypt (that's close, right?).... Frankly, if it's not Regency period England with an accompanying BBC drama starring Colin Firth, it just hasn't happened historically. But I didn't care about my confusion and vague desire to look up "The Turks" on Wikipedia because The Fire is a new book by Katherine Neville—the finest guilty pleasure author around. Not only is it a new book by Neville, who hasn't written anything in nearly two decades, but her last novel, The Eight, is the ultimate let-me-lie-on-the- couch-and-eat-bonbons-while-a-hunky-Persian-man-in-a- loincloth-paints-my-toenails book. The Fire is the next episode in the saga.
And a saga it is. Alexandra Solarin's mother, Cat Velis (the heroine from The Eight), has disappeared. Alexandra arrives at her mother's mountain retreat to find a chessboard set up mid-game, but her mother doesn't play chess, and wait... where is her mother? There's a knock on the door as Alexandra is trying to piece together the clues of her mother's disappearance, and Alexandra opens it to find two of her childhood nemeses—a blonde bratty socialite (aren't they all blonde?) and the chess prodigy who beat her on the day of her father's death 10 years earlier.
Turns out "The Game" has started again. The Game's been going on since Catherine the Great's day. There is the Black Team and the White Team and the new version of The Game has caused the war in Iraq because that's where the magic chessboard was made where the jewel-encrusted pieces play out the drama of real-life players. Or something. I don't know because my Persian love-slave was pouring me a hot chocolate and rubbing my shoulders.
Here's the point: This book is fun. It's not going to make you ace your world history exam or sound smart at parties, but maybe once everyone is drunk, you can impress that hot chick you're chatting up with some Lord Byron talk. "You know he drowned protecting some major-league chess secrets, right?" Or was that Shelley?