In April, I reviewed Rob Swigart’s first Lisa Emmer novel, The Delphi Agenda, so tonight comes a review of the second volume, Tablet of Destinies.
Tablet is one heck of a good read. It picks up where Delphi left off, but it takes off like a rocket. It helps a lot to have read the first work, although it isn’t essential, but if I were you I would. You’ll get a better feeling for Swigart’s nuanced approach to fiction, by which I mean the way he develops the characters, moves the plot, weaves a deep understanding of history and historical events throughout the story.
The characters are at once unique and, for me, created distinct emotions. I was immediately drawn to Usem, the Jesuit scholar who puts the broken shards of the tablet together and in so doing realizes its immense potential impact on life, the universe and everything. Ibrahim? I wanted to strangle him, and ditto Father Colmillo.
The plot is possessed with better pacing than its predecessor, but the stories are different so that’s not a criticism. Swigart has an affinity for developing diverging plotlines and elegantly weaving them together into a whole that keeps one grounded in the story and turning e-pages.
But what’s most outstanding is how deftly he combines historical events with a modern tale. The tablet is of Sumerian origin, which dates it around 4,000 years old. Swigart has an uncanny vocabulary for describing places and things from the past and concatenating them with the present. It’s impossible not to be reminded of the snake in Adam and Eve’s Garden of Eden while reading of how the invidious cabal known as Ophis Sophia deploys vipers to further its purposes.
And it’s also nearly impossible to overlook the instances of great and grievous harm religion has inflicted on humankind over and over again, yet Swigart delivers facts, arcane practices, scenes of torture and the angst of its misguided and mentally deranged practitioners with an even hand, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.
The author describes an Islamic observatory, only twenty kilometers away from “perpetual war.”
A Muslim art curator says “We don’t do that any more. This is the twenty-first century.”
A bad guy says, “The gift is dangerous. People cannot abide too much vision, too much truth: such things burn the unprepared.”
And don’t forget those snakes.
An immensely satisfying read, and one deserving of contemplation.