10-pages-in book review: The Reincarnationist

I don’t usually do sponsored book reviews as 10-pages-in reviews. I try to keep them distinct, partly so you’ll know books I’ve stumbled upon serendipitously versus books I’ve been offered to review, and partly because if someone is going to the trouble of sponsoring a review (in this case, MotherTalk provides a copy of the book and a $20 Amazon gift certificate) the least I can do is read the whole book before reviewing it!

In this case, I’m going to make an exception. I would have likely been curious enough about this book to pick it up on my own anyway. Plus, I didn’t receive it until a week or so ago, and quite frankly – I just haven’t had time to finish it yet! Right now, I’m about two-thirds of the way through.

After all that, on with the review. Today we’re talking about MJ Rose’s The Reincarnationist, a suspense thriller with a historical twist, akin to Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code meets Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.

Photojournalist Josh Ryder witnesses a terrorist attack in Rome, one that kills a nearby security guard and nearly kills him as well. From that moment onward, he finds himself haunted by waking nightmares, visions and hallucinations he can’t explain. They are flashbacks to Josh’s prior life as Julian, a fourth-century Roman having an illicit affair with the last of the Vestal Virgins.

The narrative swings from Josh’s story to Julian’s and back again. As the narrative leaps from modernity to ancient Rome with stops in between, the reader is drawn deeper into a complex web of interlocking mysteries that include a modern-day murder and the theft of a set of mystical objects called Memory Stones, rumoured to have the power to help the holder know all of his or her past lives.

It’s an intriguing novel and I find myself becoming more drawn into it as the story progresses. I compared it earlier to The Da Vinci Code and The Historian, and I don’t think it’s quite as compelling or well executed as those two novels – although I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why. I wish I had a better feel for Josh – and for Julian, for that matter. I have neither a clear picture in my mind of the character, nor do I quite buy into his behaviour.

Regardless, it’s one of the better books I’ve read this year, an exciting story full of page-turning suspense. There are sinister forces at play, a likeable hero, more than a hint of romance, and a handful of mysteries to be solved. What more could you ask of a book?

What I am particularly enjoying, and frankly wish there was more of, is the philosophical examination of reincarnation. I’m ambivalent about the topic myself – I tend to agree with Hamlet, who said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So while I won’t discount reincarnation outright, I also can’t say I’ve ever been compellingly convinced of its existence.

I had never really thought before reading this book about why the Catholic Church has such a problem with the idea of reincarnation (I’ll paraphrase it to “we can’t leave the eternal redemption of the unwashed masses in their own hands; whatever will our priests do?”) and found the historical description of the evolution of religion in the early years of the Church quite intriguing. I wish I knew / remembered enough about history to know whether it’s an accurate portrayal.

With a full third of this book left to read, it’s just getting really good now, and I’m quite hooked. Divergent story lines are just starting to come together, and I’m curious to see how it all comes out. If you’re curious, you can read more about The Reincarnationist on author MJ Rose’s website.

So, what do you think about the whole reincarnation thing? Were you a peasant farmer or wealthy noblesse in a past life? Or is this your one and only kick at the can?