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Isis Covenant

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Some time ago I read the first of James Douglas’s “Jamie Saintclair” thrillers, and I’ve been awaiting thne opportunity to get to the second. Well, now I’ve finally read The Isis Covenant.

There is a certain genre of tale that was made popular by Dan Brown, owing to Indiana Jones and revolving around the mystical and the occult in the modern world. And despite Brown’s fame, there are plenty of writers who, to my mind, are better examples. One is Simon Toyne. Another is James Douglas.

Douglas’ thrillers strike, for me, a superb balance. They revolve around an art dealer and antiquarian, which links the modern to the ancient and strikes a chord with the historian in me. And they revolve around mystical objects, whether they be true or simply misinterpretations of the mundane, which adds the thrill. And finally, at least with the first two books, they connect with the Second World War and the Nazi lunatics’ search for occult items to help empower their master race (a subject that’s a guilty pleasure for me). Superb mix, and guarenteed to hit the spot in at least some way for most readers.

The Isis Covenant takes characters and some dangling threads from the first book in the series and reintroduces them, tugging on those threads and using them to weave a whole new story.

A twisted son, a vengeful neo-Nazi, a stymied cop and Jamie Saintclair all seeking an ancient Egyptian crown and the priceless stone that has long been separated from it together believed to bestow prolonged life. And the search will take them into the world of ageing secret Nazis, Russian gangsters, American assassins and so much more.

Utterly satisfying, well-plotted, gripping and colourful, the Isis Covenant is a perfect sequel to the first great book in the series.

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Written by SJAT

January 31, 2017 at 12:25 am

Sancti Trilogy – Simon Toyne

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sancti

It’s actually been quite a long time since I read the first two Sancti books, but for a variety of reasons I have only just got round to the third. I also then discovered that, to my surprise, I never posted a review of either on my blog. So, time to amend that. I will end this post with the review of the third book that I have just completed, but I have also decided to repost the reviews of the first two, previously posted to Goodreads. So here are the trilogy in full…

SANCTUS (Book 1) – Originally reviewed 2012

It’s been a while since I read anything non Historical, but had this recommended to me, so I bumped it up the pile.

I read it in short order, in every five minutes available.

Sanctus is intriguing, complex and absorbing from beginning to middle.

I use this odd turn of phrase because the second half is also intriging, complex and absorbing, but it is also exciting, action-packed, fascinating and explosive (quite literally).

Once you’re about 25 pages in, the book is impossible to abandon. You just HAVE to know.

Essentially, the novel has the feel and components of every conspiracy/supernatural/quasi-religious novel ever, but manages to avoid being derivative, predictable, boring, dry, or silly – all things I have found in novels of a similar genre.

I won’t detail the plot as that would be far too complex and spoil things, but a war between ancient sects over the greatest secret at the heart of organised religion has spilled over into the present day.

Toyne has, perhaps wisely – given the religious aspect of his plot – created a fictional location and sect, twisting the real world so that it becomes his plaything, aiding his plot while remaining so familiar it’s impossible not to recognise everything.

I delayed going for a pint that was already in and standing on the bar to read the last 10 pages, and there is simply no higher recommendation than that.

THE KEY (Book 2) – Originally reviewed 2012

Like most of the readers of Sanctus (I would guess) I finished that book wondering how on Earth Simon was going to follow it up. The ending of the first was pretty world-shaking, after all.

It took me a long time to getting round to reading The Key, largely because of a heavy reading list requirement and not having the free moments, but I have always had it floating in my MUST GET TO pile. I finally discovered that I had free moments and leapt on the books with a sense of urgent excitement.

It took me maybe the first 50-60 pages to make my mind up about it. It seemed to be a little jarring after the end of the first in some ways, despite flowing almost seamlessly in others. In retrospect, I put this down to having spent too long away and not being caught up properly. Certainly as soon as I was familiar once more with the characters and settings, I was racing away, turning pages at a rate of knots.

The story seems to be wide and in parts unconnected for a while, but if you’ve read Sanctus, you’ll be prepared for the ingenious ways that the apparently baffling disparate tie in to the story’s heart. As with Sanctus, I got the end marvelling at it and smiling at the perfect neatness of it and yet kicking myself because I should have been able to piece it together.

Where the first book focused entirely on Gabriel and Liv and their allies and the mysterious citadel of Ruin and the dark secret it has housed since the earliest days (no spoilers in my reviews, gov), the second in the series focuses on the source of the Sacrament: the garden of Eden and a hunt set against the clock with the prize being a nebulous good but the cost of failure being deadly to those characters we follow and appalling for the world in general.

As characters we liked from book 1 become all the more fabulous, we are introduced to a succession of new villains of the most vile and odious kinds (and often the merely misguided or stupid) and new locations (the Vatican was clearly going to become involved at some point). The addition of a few twists that made me raise my eyebrows made it a masterpiece for me.

Where I started unsure and a little out of my depth, it took only a few breaths before I was being dragged headlong through the tale by Toyne’s action narrative and by the end I was grumbling that it was over. Bravo on a superb follow up. Loved it.

THE TOWER (Book 3)

What can a person expect from the conclusion of such a trilogy? I mean, it’s an apolcalypic-strength trilogy, so the third book would really have to be a killer, of course. Expectations should be high, and therefore, of course, are surprisingly low, because it’s not going to be easy to do – and probably hasn’t been – and you don’t want to hype it so much to yourself that it doesn’t live up to it.

So it was a bit of a surprise.

After a year and a half since I read book 2, rather than finding it hard to get back into, the characters unfamiliar, and the plot threads lost and discordant, instead I found it an instant win.

The Tower grabs the reader not slowly and constructively like The Key, but like the original Sanctus. I read two chapters (his chapters are really short) and then simply could not put it down.

For our two continuing main characters, the story picks up precisely where it left off, involving once more the great citadel of Ruin and the ‘blight’ that is scything its way through the faithful and the desert location where Liv had brought the sacrament and turned hate and destruction into hope and beauty.

But this book also draws in new characters, most notable those belonging to the FBI in western-states America. Agent Shepherd is about to become involved in an investigation into why NASA is being targeted by religious fanatics and hijacking and destruction of the greatest telescopes in the world. Because although the Sancti are no more, the sinister Novus Sanctus is putting all his pieces into play to prevent the Biblical End of Days. But the end of days might not be what the public suspect.

This is as good as the original book. Written at a pace that is non-stop action, The Tower is a stunning finale, that draws together all the threads and plunges us headlong into a fantastic, unexpected conclusion.

* * *

So there you go. Three books of a trilogy, each valuable as a read, but when put together, a stunning and rewarding way to spend your time. Simon Toyne is by far my favourite writer of the ‘quasi-religious thriller genre’, outstripping Dan Brown by so far they can’t even communicate by phone!

If you’ve not read the Sancti, go get them and read them.

Back in a few days now, with Mike Arnold’s ‘Highwayman: Ironside’

Written by SJAT

January 10, 2015 at 9:30 pm