THE NINTH CIRCLE - Alex Bell
Reading THE NINTH CIRCLE was a weird experience and that's not just because the subject matter dipped into the supernatural very quickly.
THE NINTH CIRCLE is partly a mystery and partly fantasy. When Gabriel wakes up on his own floor he has no idea who he is, where he is, or where the money came from. He does have some memories of how to function, how to feed himself, how to go out and slowly discover the more intimate details of his life - it's like his own personal past has been knocked out, yet everything else in the world works. Slowly, via a series of circumstantial discoveries, and later from hints or the revelations of a mysterious lurking character, he does identify that he's living in Budapest, he works out that his full name is Gabriel Antaeus, he finds that he can speak and read a lot of languages fluently, he discovers he is capable of extreme and deadly efficient violence and ultimately, he finds out what caused his loss of memory, and who and what he really is. As he slowly tries to re-integrate himself into society - all the time having no idea if somebody is looking for him, if somebody is waiting for him, strange events happen to him. A burning man haunts his dreams, he finds he thinks increasingly violent thoughts, and his pregnant neighbour always appears to him surrounded by a golden light.
THE NINTH CIRCLE starts out almost as a discovery journey - as Gabriel works his way back into a life. As he slowly finds contact with people and establishes his own coping mechanisms (or not coping mechanisms depending upon your viewpoint), strange events and people reveal themselves. And then we're well into the fantasy part of the novel, where Gabriel is caught in some sort of epic battle between good and evil - angels and demons, where the religious aspects of the battle are revealed in the surrounding characters and their actions and circumstances.
Whilst THE NINTH CIRCLE really was a fascinating book, there were a few odd problems with it. Gabriel is a pretty ineffectual character for all his violence and brooding nature, and frequently he was almost annoyingly passive. Despite the epic nature of the plot elements there's also very little sense of real menace - even to Gabriel himself. Finally there's absolutely no sense of place - the setting could easily have been anywhere so why Budapest wasn't immediately obvious.
Despite those few minor niggles, THE NINTH CIRCLE definitely was a page-turner which I couldn't put down. It could definitely appeal to mystery fans who don't mind a bit of a dabble in the supernatural.
A man comes round on the floor of a shabby flat in the middle of Budapest. His head is glued to the floorboards with his own blood. There's a fortune in cash on the kitchen table. And he has no idea where, or who, he is.