Book Review: Blasphemy by Douglas Preston

Every time I write a book review, I feel a strange similarity to a journalist writing a newspaper article. That is, newspaper circulation is dwindling with the industry and it seems that the amount of book readers seem to be decreasing too. Darned kids. Now, the last book I reviewed (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak) was an instant classic for me. So reading Blasphemy by Douglas Preston was a little like seeing Ke$ha perform after Celine Dion (I assume…uhh…). That is, Blasphemy is entertaining in it’s own way, but can’t touch the class of a legend.

The basic idea of Blasphemy is centered around a multi-billion dollar particle collider, “Isabella.” It is operating in the mountainside of Red Mesa, Ariz., right in the heart of Navajo country. It is under the operation of Nobel-prize winning, widely-proclaimed smartest man in the world, Gregory North Hazelius and his team of elite scientists, mathematicians and psychologists. They are attempting to re-create the Big Bang by circulating particles in opposite directions through the collider and clashing them at certain high energies and recording the results. Wow, that is too much science for me – my head is spinning.

Most novels have a problem or two; an antagonist or two. This book seems to be chock full of them. Preston does a really impressive job with character description and development, especially because there are so many major characters. The main character, or at least the main protagonist is ex-CIA agent turned monk turned private investigator, Wyman Ford. He is sent to Red Mesa as an undercover “anthropologist” to figure out what’s behind reports of trouble coming out of Isabella. Things get complicated when he realizes that the assistant director of the operation is his ex-love interest Kate Mercer. If you think a side love story is complicated, just wait.

The U.S. government, who is financing the Isabella project, has made plenty of enemies. They alienated the Navajo tribes by failing to keep promises made in agreements over use of their land. They angered devoutly religious groups by essentially trying to prove that science was the real method of creationism, not Genesis. And one particular deranged preacher in general, Pastor Russ Eddy, has a personal problem with the Isabella project, which is situated just miles away from his small, local church establishment.

So, once Ford is sent down to investigate, things really start getting crazy. A Russian scientist is found dead, mysterious messages begin to appear in the process of recording information on Isabella, Pastor Eddy takes a cue from a popular television evangelist and calls for a complete Christian overthrow of the operation and it’s “Antichrist” leader (Hazelius), and the Navajos are constantly protesting. If you’re getting lost, I totally understand. It’s a lot to take in. It’s hard to follow just from the summary, but it makes sense when it’s all put together in the book (big props to Preston for making that happen).

At the peak of the action, the Isabella team has locked themselves inside Isabella and shut out all communication. An apocalyptic Christian mob has formed and started charging the base. Military personnel has been deployed to respond to the loss of communication inside Isabella. And the Navajo people are spying and plotting ways to get what they rightfully earned. I can’t tell you any more than that, but hopefully that gives you an idea of the epic, climactic action that takes up the last third of the book.

The first two thirds are no slouches either. They are imperative to the development of the story and give us the opportunity to meet tons of new, unforgettable characters. I really enjoyed the way Preston was able to display the action scenes with vivid imagery; I could totally picture them on a movie screen. The only major complaints I have with the book, and the writing for that matter, is there is a really cheesy, almost pointless love story going on the side with Ford and Mercer. Also, there is a very shocking twist at the end, that is poorly developed. It still surprises you, but leaves you saying something along the lines of: “Really? That’s kind of lame.”

In no way do these things detract from the book overall. As I mentioned, the story is very enthralling, very brave and well-written. Preston seems to hold nothing back as far as political correctness and actually uses current issues to demonstrate the characters and scenes in Blasphemy. Also, there is a good portion of the book that really gets you thinking (as a title like Blasphemy would suggest, no?). It gets you thinking about creation, the meaning of life, destiny, etc. And if I had to choose one aspect of Preston’s writing in the novel that really stood out, it would be the ways in which he worded the parts that get your brain moving like that. Extremely impressive.

Overall, Blasphemy is a fantastic read, and if you can get past a couple small, glaring weaknesses, you will really enjoy this book. If you like conflict, intensity, and deep thinking, this is definitely a book you should pick up. Don’t hesitate at the controversial nature of the book or the possibility of it being over the top. I promise you, Preston finds a way to make it work well together. Ignoring this book on moral grounds would be blatant, well, blasphemy!

(Oh, and just on a side note, I picked this book up for $1 at Pike Place Market, shoved between two shelves…not a bad purchase if you ask me!)

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