Would you pay the ultimate price for the ultimate knowledge? I have never written down the answers to the deepest mysteries, nor will I ever.... The philosopher Plato wrote these words more than 2,000 years ago, following a perilous voyage to Italy - an experience about which he never spoke again, but from which he emerged the greatest thinker in all of human history. Today, 12 golden tablets sit in museums around the world, each created by unknown hands and buried in ancient times, and each providing the dead with the route to the afterlife. Archaeologist Lily Barnes, working on a dig in southern Italy, has just found another. But this tablet names the location to the mouth of hell itself. And then Lily vanishes. Has she walked out on her job, her marriage, and her life - or has something more sinister happened? Her husband, Jonah, is desperate to find her. But no one can help him: not the police, and not the secretive foundation that sponsored her dig. All Jonah has is belief, and a determination to do whatever it takes to get Lily back. But like Plato before him, Jonah will discover the journey ahead is mysterious and dark and fraught with danger. And not everyone who travels to the hidden place where Lily has gone can return.
"Tom Harper has been writing elaborate thrillers that marry ironclad narrative skills with some of the most elegantly understated writing in the field; he's the thinking person's Dan Brown. Actually, Harper deserves the latter's success - and more, as Harper is comfortably the better writer." (Barry Forshaw) "Harper effortlessly draws the reader into an unfamiliar time, bringing alive the characters and their motivations." (Publishers Weekly)
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I'm going to start with a quasi-contradiction to my rating -- because somewhere in that blurriness between fact and fiction, history and mythology, I learned to love a good story. The fuzzy area gives *possibility* the power to challenge *probability* -- it gives storytellers license to go for it and tell readers to hang on and enjoy a fantastical ride. Harper inhabits that gray area with verve, combining history, philosophy, mythology, mysticism, archeology into a dual-timeline thriller. So, contrary to my 2* rating, I say if you like the premise, go for it and enjoy the ride. The mythology Harper has built his story on has stood the test of time; it's entertaining with a dose of a contemporary mystery thrown in, and this audio version is well produced. I'd also warn you to prepare for a shift. Listening got more tedious as I went on, and I have to blame that on Harper's literal descent.
Orpheus was a musician that had the "ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music." [Wikipedia ..."To be a rock and not to roll"...Led Zeppelin] "No one under the spell of his voice could refuse him anything." When he dared to attempt to bring his wife Eurydice back from the realm of the underworld, he strummed his golden lyre and it was said all the inhabitants of Hell were charmed. And as the legend goes, he alone made it out. Throughout the story, the ancient philosopher Plato is on the heels of friend Agathon, who has disappeared while on a journey for a mysterious *book*. We learn the book is actually a golden tablet said to contain sacred information about the meaning of life and the afterlife: *the ultimate knowledge of the universe,* and the *keys to Hell.* Plato tells the reader this part of the tale in a distant echo-y quality (perhaps to simulate the sound of speaking from a cave; as in Plato's Allegory of the Cave).
Interspersed with Plato's chapters is the contemporary storyline of Jonah and Lily. Jonah is just returning from a semi-successful world tour with his disintegrating rock band when he learns that his wife Lily has disappeared from a mysteriously funded archeological dig to unearth a legendary golden tablet. The tablet is surrounded in myth, linked to several similar golden tablets already in museums around the world, each providing parts of the *ultimate knowledge* that so changed Plato's teachings. This one may hold keys to immortality, and Lily's whereabouts.
Like Eurydice and Orpheus, Jonah and Lily were young and in love. "So deep was their love that they were practically inseparable. So dependent was their love that each felt they could not live without the other." His family and friends tell Jonah Lily has left the marriage, but his heart tells him she loves him, and that there is trouble afoot. Indeed, we learn, there is trouble, cabals, and even a sorceress conspiring against the couple. Friends can't be trusted, neither can his own sense of reality.
It's commendable that Harper keeps the integrity of the classical Greek mythology in his ambitious plotting. By constructing parallel, yet independent stories, that seem to be racing neck and neck toward similar thematic conclusions, he has written a book that holds your attention...for the most part. From an engaging and promising beginning, Harper seems to lurch ahead, losing finesse and sophistication. It is almost as if there was a change of authors. The form slackens, mysteries unravel, and suddenly it feels like a shift into one of Percy Jackson's Olympian adventures. In between the two storylines appears a threatening middle specter...the harbinger of anticlimax (that may be in part due to the foreknowledge of the story of Orpheus). And if that isn't enough of a buzz kill, you face the challenges of melding the authors grand concepts with your own comprehension, and hanging in there with a read that seems to have been hijacked for a YA audience -- which wasn't what I was looking for, as much as I enjoyed all of Percy's exploits.
An interesting mix of alternating chapters of a current day story and the time of Sophocles. Archeological digs, dreams, alternate reality sequences are sometimes confusing and hard to follow, but become clearer toward the end of the book. The two stories come to satisfactory conclusions at the end, but go through hell to get there. Perfect for students of philosophy.