Book Review: The Babylon Rite (Tom Knox)

One of the dangers of spending so much time writing in the B&N coffee shop is the lurid attraction of all those unread pages.

Lo they do call to me… *ahem*

And so in the middle of writing the Prometheus book I was sidetracked by The Babylon Rite, a fascinating mash-up of Templar mystery and disturbing ancient Peruvian archaeology. Yes, I was also intrigued at the idea, and therefore got sucked into Knox’s fast paced story of an unemployed journalist, a young archaeological grad student, and a couple of dead professors.

Adam Blackwood is writing a puff piece on a famous historian and his connection to Rosslyn Chapel. THE Rosslyn Chapel of The Davinci Code fame: a subject of both scorn and deprecation by the main character, as he makes a snarky comment or two regarding the influx of tourism in the area since Dan Brown’s story became popular.

The professor in question, famous for debunking Templar myths, whispers only that it’s all real and it’s all here before running off and, surprisingly, driving his car into a stone wall in a mad suicide. And thus Blackwood is sucked into an odd mystery by the professor’s daughter, a woman convinced her father had been involved in something bigger and scarier and was most decidedly NOT suicidal. Worse, his “suicide” seems to be similar to a string of truly horrific deaths popping up around London.

Did I mention seriously disturbing archaeology? That too. While all the drama is occurring in the UK, Jessica Silverton is in Peru with her (rather stereotypical) lover and boss, the head of an archaeological excavation of the Moche. Her story, seemingly separate from Blackwood’s, follows what happens to a person who discovers the “mythological significance” of ancient paintings depicting people severing their own limbs or having sex with sacrifices (that would be during said sacrifice and immediately after) and/or animals was not mythologically significant at all. They weren’t allegorical images: they were accurate recordings of real events.

The way their plots eventually intertwine with each other is really well done: the idea that Moche civilization is in any way connected to the secret Templar initiation rite is pretty inventive and not at all implausible when the mystery is revealed. However, I personally found the big twist that actually tied them together fairly disappointing. To be completely fair, that’s likely because I rather enjoy the whole ancient conspiracy theme, and so I had an expectation I perhaps should not have entertained.

Also, while Knox has an excellent knack for writing really creepy violence, he doesn’t do a lot to develop the characters themselves. I think the torturous villains would’ve been more effective if I gave a hoot about any of the main characters, but really none of them were much more than cardboard cutouts. I actually got the impression that there was development behind them, but that it had been edited out of the story to try to make it more fast-paced, because Knox’s writing is truly evocative. I was disappointed to find myself ambivalent in places I wouldn’t have been if I’d been vested in the character’s worlds. Interestingly the back cover blurbs include something about this being a tale “peppered with sex” which is horrendously incorrect. There is a truly awful rape scene (yes, dear author, rape is still rape even if the victim’s body responds…a comment which made me want to hit something), and there’s a myriad of inventive violence. Decidedly not a story for weak stomachs.

All in all it wasn’t a book that left me thinking hard about the world, the characters, or even the awful things that happened after I put it down. But I’d read another of his works for an afternoon escape anytime I’m feeling like an alternative to an action movie.

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