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    Review of THE TESTAMENT by Eric Van Lustbader (see his website)

    Forge, Tom Doherty Associates, September 2006

    When his father is killed in a gas leak 'accident,' Braverman (Bravo) Shaw is thrown into a new world--one of dark secrets, sinister organizations, battles within the Church, and codes. His father, it turned out, was the leader of an organization descending from the Franciscan Observatines, a group who followed the rules of St. Francis despite orders from the Pope--and a group that has spent centuries battling with the evil Knights of St. Clement. Among the Observatine secrets are two that the Knights will do just about anything to possess--the actual Gospel of Jesus, and a mysterious alchemical element, called the Quintessence--an element that holds the secret to life itself, and might have been used by Jesus in raising Lazarus.

    Bravo learns that the Observatines have been infiltrated by one or more traitors--whose betrayal killed his father and threatens all of the order's attempts to promote civilization and reduce warfare around the world. Unfortunately, knowing that a traitor exists doesn't mean it's easy to detect the traitor's identity, yet Bravo must trust someone. That means falling back on his oldest friends and confidants--and refusing to listen to anyone else, especially not the woman who claims she was assigned to guard him.

    Author Eric Van Lustbader follows in the Da Vinci Code tradition with a thriller that circles the world, where puzzles link back into the middle ages and before. I enjoyed Van Lustbader's descriptions of Venice and Trebizond--two of the most vibrant cities of the middle ages, now much reduced from their former splender. The eternal battle within the Church between those seeking power and those seeking the world's good also rings true and always makes for interesting stories. Van Lustbader is an excellent wordsmith and keeps the reader on edge, anticipating the next (disasterous) development in Bravo's journey.

    I wanted to be able to offer an unqualified endorsement of this story. Van Lustbader's THE NINJA is one of the best thrillers I've ever read, and I love the content of the religious thriller. Unfortunately, story flaws keep me from that unqualified endorsement. First, Bravo is an unlikable and unsympathetic character. He's quick to jump to conclusions, annoying when he simply refuses to listen, judgmental and condemning of others, and filled with arrogance that seems unrelated to his true talents. It is certainly difficult to understand why Jenny Logan would fall for him in the first place, certainly the reader can't. Second, although Bravo's quest is interesting, taking him to fascinating parts of the world, it is ultimately pointless. Although the Knights of St. Clement are motivated to discover the Observatine secrets, there is really no urgency for Bravo to turn them up. Indeed, with the Knights after him, he would have done better to simply wait until the Pope's death and the shakeup within the Vatican rather than risk leading the Knights to a treasure they could never have found without his help. The "Mcguffen" of the treasure is unfortunately obvious to the reader, reducing our level of suspense and ultimately disrupting the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy this kind of story.

    Eric Van Lustbader is a talented author and THE TESTAMENT shows flashes of this talent. I certainly had no problems sticking with this story to the end. I just wish Van Lustbader had brought the insights into character that made THE NINJA so strong to this novel.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 9/28/06

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