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The Magic Circle
Katherine Neville
Ballantine Books, 544 pages

The Magic Circle
Katherine Neville
Katherine Neville was born in the Midwest and attended school there and in the Rocky Mountains, spending summers in the Pacific Northwest. After college, she went to New York City to work in the computer industry. Whenever in school or between jobs, Neville often supported herself by painting and fashion modelling. She developed her photography skills sufficiently to become one of the first female commercial photographers in Colorado. In 1980, Katherine Neville moved to San Francisco where she stayed for 10 years, becoming a vice president of the Bank of America. At 40, she moved to Europe for a period of time then settled in to living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She is working on her new novel about painters, set in the sixteenth century and in modern times, in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

ISFDB Bibliography
Excerpt: The Magic Circle
Interview with Katherine Neville
The Magic Circle Research Adventures

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Margo MacDonald

After reading Neville's latest novel, I would have to say that I still consider The Eight to be her masterpiece. Mind you, The Magic Circle is filled with all the elements that made Neville's first book so great -- but unfortunately it doesn't come together quite as neatly in the end.

We've got a female heroine who gets dragged unprepared into a series of far-flung adventures involving obscure manuscripts, collected by her grandmother from many lands throughout many eras. What exactly these manuscripts are, how they fit together, what secrets they hold and why everybody wants them are the mysteries that pull the story and its heroine along -- though the bigger mystery seems to be exactly how her family tree all fits together (I suggest keeping notes and drawing a chart!).

The book moves back and forth between modern times and the 1st century AD. It is a story filled with stories. And these stories layer over and fold into each other like some magnificent pastry. The author gently -- well, actually, sometimes abruptly -- takes the reader from place to place, time to time, and character to character. And they all are intimate, interesting and compelling. Even the ones that are glimpsed only briefly are so beautifully drawn that it feels like you've spent much more time with them than you have. I found myself at times regretting being pulled out these sub-stories back into the main plot -- but there was always another story waiting.

As Neville pulls in sources of mysticism and mysteries from here, there and -- well, really -- everywhere, the book begins to feel like an elaborate tapestry that is being worked on from four sides at once. It can't help but slowly dawn on the reader just how much knowledge, how much reading and how much research went into the writing of this book. Neville is definitely a woman of some brilliance (as a glance at her bio will confirm). She may just be a little too brilliant, however. It is obvious that all the fascinating stories and historical facts that she fills the novel with have fabulous connections in the author's mind. Her success at relaying these connections to the reader, however, is somewhat muddled and, as I mentioned at the start, doesn't come full circle by the end of the book. It is a little disappointing that after so much information, so much building, there comes no inspired explanation, conspiracy theory or mislaid magic. It's not that she doesn't say what she believes the connection is, it is just that when she does, it is said in a stutter, with a slight apology, and a trite modern moral.

But you know, one of the characters in the novel espouses the idea that it is the journey and not the end result which is important. I feel the same thing could be said of this book. It is undeniably a grand adventure, wrapped in amazing characters and even more amazing tales. It is a whirlwind of history and mysticism combined with fabulous storytelling which manages to entertain, inform and activate the imagination of the reader. It's kind of like a really great ride at an amusement park -- despite the comedown when it stops, it's definitely worth the price of admission.

Copyright © 1998 by Margo MacDonald

Margo has always been drawn toward fantasy and, at the age of 5, decided to fill her life with it by pursuing a career as a professional actress. Aside from theatre (and her husband), Margo's passion has been for books. Her interests are diverse and eclectic, but the bulk fall within the realm of speculative fiction. She tells us that her backlog has reached 200 books and she's ready to win the lottery and retire.

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