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The Fire: A Novel
by Katherine Neville

Published: 2009-08-25
Paperback : 464 pages
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2003, Colorado: Alexandra Solarin is summoned home to her family’s ancestral Rocky Mountain hideaway for her mother’s birthday. Thirty years ago, her parents, Cat Velis and Alexander Solarin, believed that they had scattered the pieces of the Montglane Service around the world, ...
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2003, Colorado: Alexandra Solarin is summoned home to her family’s ancestral Rocky Mountain hideaway for her mother’s birthday. Thirty years ago, her parents, Cat Velis and Alexander Solarin, believed that they had scattered the pieces of the Montglane Service around the world, burying with the chessmen the secrets of the power that comes with possessing them. But Alexandra arrives to find that her mother is missing–and that the Game has begun again.

1822, Albania: Haidee, the young daughter of a powerful Ottoman ruler, embarks on a dangerous mission to smuggle a valuable relic out of Albania and deliver it into the hands of the one man who might be able to save it. Haidee’s journey brings forth chilling revelations that burn through history to the present day.

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Discussion Questions

1. Mother-Daughter relations: Alexandra "Xie" Solarin, the protagonist of The Fire, was a child chess=prodigy who was encouraged to play chess by everyone except her mother, Cat Velis. We know what dangers Cat was afraid of for her daughter--but Alexandra does not realize this, and she severs relations with her mother early on. Alexandra's father, likewise, had lost contact with his mother at an early age. And Sage Livingston, Xie's arch-nemesis, has her own maternal hang-ups with her mother Rosemary.
What deep interconnections between mothers and their offspring are explored within The Fire? And how do these convey the message of the book's underlying theme?

2. Chess--the Cosmic Game: Why use chess as a structure for the novel? The chess board itself and the pieces all play roles as characters and plot elements in The Fire. To Alexandra, who thinks like a chess player, they mean something quite different than to the rest of us. How many different situations do we find which relate to everything from our ordinary "chess-like" tactics and strategies in life, up to the "cosmic" theme of chess: from moves that are made by the characters, to the layout and design of cities? How are these connected within the story?

3. Neville's books all deal with food--but in The Fire, the heroine, Xie, is actually an apprentice to a master chef in Washington DC. In most novels, food is rarely mentioned. But in this book, cuisine and its exquisite preparation appear in almost every scene. Why did Alexandra transition from being child chess prodigy to being a chef? How are the preparation and ingestion of food and liquor so critical to the story?

4. Byron and Freedom: Lord Byron the poet died in Greece and will always be associated with the War of Greek Independence against Turkey, as depicted in The Fire. But as the book describes too, he also supported the Italians against their Austrian overlords, and many others. What critical role, in that respect, does Byron play in the underlying theme of the book? What is the importance of the message Shelley sends to him from his watery grave?

5. Catherine the Great and Power: Catherine the Great, "Empress of all the Russias," is one of the few transitional characters to play an important role in both The Eight and The Fire. What is her key role--and how does it affect the change from one idea of power to another?

6. New York City and Washington DC: The important early scenes in The Eight are set in New York where Cat Velis is a young computer expert--public places like the United Nations, the Diamond District, the Plaza, Central Park South. In The Fire, Cat's daughter Xie is more familiar with hidden places in Colorado and Washington DC. What parallels can be drawn from the contrasts between these two images of overt and covert?

7. Christianity and Islam: In The Eight, the "chess=set of Charlemagne," the first Holy Roman Emperor, was not created (as we learn in The Fire) for Charlemagne. It was created in 775 AD in the then-brand-new city of Baghdad. What is the significance of the connection between the importance of this=chess set for Islam--which created it--and Christianity--which possessed=it since the time of the first Emperor of the West?

8. "To Laugh or not to Laugh": Why does Neville constantly use humor throughout these books--even in situations which might seem to be dire? Voltaire, when explaining his use of humor in situations of disaster, said: "I laugh only to keep from hanging myself." What is the importance of laughter in the midst of tragedy? What role do comedy, satire, and irony play in the telling of serious stories from our past?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

The spectacular chess game in my first book, THE EIGHT--a quest for the bejeweled chess set that once belonged to Charlemagne--has continued to captivate readers around the world with its exotic locales, fascinating historic figures, and complex plot. Long a book club favorite for the richness of its international themes--THE EIGHT may also have “paved the way for books like The Da Vinci Code,” according recently to Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and many others. But more important to me--it has heralded the re-emergence of a timeless genre, my favorite, and our oldest form of literature: the Quest novel.

Today, that quest resumes, in force, in my long-awaited sequel: THE FIRE. When the most critical piece of Charlemagne’s chess set, the Black Queen, suddenly emerges, the quest leads us from 8th-century Baghdad to the wilds of Colorado, to Albania, Russia, Rome, Morocco--and into a secret wilderness that almost no one knows, hidden at the very heart of Washington DC.

The Quest: we think of Jason and the Golden Fleece, Parsifal and the Holy Grail, Dorothy of Oz and the Wizard--also Harry Potter and the Wizard!--the quest for a hidden wisdom, a sacred object, a secret code, a lost domain... Why=has the Quest theme lasted so long? Why do we never tire of it? Why is it so important to us? Those are the questions that I love to explore in my books--and which "spark my imagination"--most especially in THE FIRE.

The Washington Post called THE FIRE: An exotic, labyrinthine conspiracy tale...the perfect escapist adventure.” The Chicago Sun-Times said: “The Fire impresses as much for its literary aspects as it does for its action, puzzles and suspense...This is a book to be savored as it’s read, and admired for the beauty of its accomplishment.”

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "it is a nice sequel"by mpaniaguatej (see profile) 12/14/09

it is not like 'the Eight" but still a good story that explains some interrogations from the 1sr part. If you like mystery and history it is a good book.

  "A Follow Up Let Down"by marian416 (see profile) 11/13/09

I had higher expectations after being sucked into The Eight. A good story, but didn't live up to my wishes.

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