The Book of Names
Jill Gregory & Karen Tintori
Here's another review for Audiobook Week (an occasion I didn't know about this until I stumbled upon a twitter hashtag on Tuesday). The book is seven discs, (8 hours), and is narrated by Christopher Graybill.
It took me awhile to warm up to Graybill's reading, as it is with nearly every audiobook I listen to. Generally my first thought on track one is something like 'this guy/gal sounds so weird, how did he/she get this job?!' but about five minutes in everything is fine, and the voice simply becomes part of the story (except in one or two very bad cases). It catches my interest when an audiobook includes some kind of audio detail that you don't always hear, and in The Book of Names, it was sort of an echo microphone effect used when characters were either thinking to themselves or conversing through a telephone. It was a little odd sounding, but it was very effective within the story. The book is broken down into very small 'chapters', usually jumping points of view as the action sets up, typical thriller set up. I've seen some audio books that use multiple narrators to cover the voices, but that wasn't the case here. Graybill used variants of his vocal range and regional accents to cover the entire character spectrum. Some of the voices seemed a little exaggerated, but there was an international cast of characters, so it worked pretty well.
It is said that there are 36 souls in each generation that are capable of complete spiritual enlightenment. If any of them die prematurely, leaving less than 36 righteous souls at any time, the world becomes more chaotic. If all of them should die, the world as we know it, comes to an end. These names were recorded by Adam from the word of God, and were passed down until eventually the Book of Names was lost in time...
I liked the story - the fast pace and interesting historical questions made the time pass quickly while I listened at work. I have a love of old cultures and traditions, so many of the subjects discussed in the book intrigued me: Kabbalah, Tarot, Zodiac, biblical references, the Tree of Life, and of course, any secret societies (there is a bit of a conspiracy theorist in me)! I have little to no knowledge about Judaism, so a lot of the content was new to me, and I'm not completely certain what was fact and what was fiction, but it doesn't detract from the story.
The plot was very DaVinci Code esque:
In the DaVinci Code, Robert Langdon, a world-renowned symbologist (a person who studies symbolism throughout time and cultures), who teaches class at Harvard University, is sought out to help solve the murder of the Louvre curator. After analyzing the body and teaming up with a police cryptographer, Langdon begins an incredible journey of puzzles, history, and alternate biblical conspiracies.
In The Book of Names, David Shepard falls off a roof when he is young, and has a near death experience. Ever since that time, names fill his mind, names he's never heard, people he's never met - and he records them in a journal. We find out that these names are the same names in the fragments recovered from Adam's Book of Names. Unfortunately, a dark, evil, secret society, the Gnosios (I think, I only listed remember? The word derives from Gnostic) also finds out that David knows these names; names they have been desperately trying to recover for generations in order to destroy the world as we know it, to have it born anew.
The plots are fairly similar, but one thing really jumped at me. In DaVinci Code, Langdon is the teacher. He goes through his adventures with a knowing and calculating mind, and all the tools he needs as his adventure progresses. Shepard, on the other hand, knew nothing of any religious affiliations or even anything strange - for all he knew, the names were just a slightly strange side effect from a nearly fatal accident when he was a kid. I mean, his degree was in political science (his dad was a senator), and neither of those facts came in handy for him, except for one character he met through his father. I'm not sure which is more annoyingly convenient; having a character that 'happens' to know everything he needs to survive, or a character that depends on the people he 'happens' to meet along the way - I think the latter, because how could he have known who to trust? If he had let the wrong sort of person know about his gift, the story could have concluded with the end of the world.
As it was, David Shepard happened to hear one of the names on the news one day as he was writing it down - the woman had been murdered. Once the initial shock passed, he began searching for the other names, finding many of them also deceased. Unsure of what to do next, he asks his best friend and colleague, a professor of religion, who refers him to a Rabbi, and the adventure goes from there. Before he sees the Rabbi, however, he received a call from his step-daughter, whose mother had just remarried. The new husband adopted the daughter, changing her name to something very familiar to David...one of the names on his List...the list of people who mysteriously end up dead.