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Book Review: Mythos Christos, by Edwin Herbert

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Alexandria, Egypt / AD 391 ─ When the great temple of Serapis and its library annex are destroyed by the Christian mob, the Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia becomes concerned the Great Library might suffer the same fate. She vows to save as much of the ancient knowledge as she can, especially certain telling documents concerning the origins of Christianity. But rather than merely hiding the heretical scrolls and codices in desert caves and hoping for the best, Hypatia contrives a far more ingenious plan. She sets up an elaborate sequence of burials, each of which is governed by actual ancient linguistic and geometrical riddles which must be solved to gain access. Only one steeped in Platonic mysticism would be capable of finding and unlocking the buried secrets.

Oxford, England / June, 2006 ─ American Rhodes scholar Lex Thomasson is sent to Alexandria to aid a mysterious Vatican group known only as “The Commission.” They require a specialist in ancient languages to solve a sequence of Greek Mystery puzzles in what soon becomes evident is Hypatia’s ancient treasure hunt. The Oxford paleographer demonstrates his unique talents by unlocking the secrets along the trail. It does not take long, however, for him to become suspicious of the Commission’s true motives, and the trail becomes a trial fraught with danger.

The scene alternates between the two time periods. In both, assassins lurk and fanatics abound. And all along, religious Faith and historical Truth struggle for supremacy.

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Book – Mythos Christos

Author – Edwin Herbert

Star rating – ★★★★★

No. of Pages – 530

Cover – Intriguing

POV – 3rd person, multi-character POV

Would I read it again – YES!

Genre – Historical, Thriller, Conspiracy, Crime/Mystery

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** COPY RECEIVED THROUGH NETGALLEY **

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Right from the start, I was intrigued by this story. The blurb and cover made me request it and I wasn’t disappointed.

This is PERFECT! Full of realistic situations, adventure, intelligence, wit and flair when needed, it’s the perfect conspiracy theorist’s dream, a nightmare for the devoutly religious and an amazing adventure into Ancient Egypt, with a modern day tour guide with all the right keys to unlock the past.

Oh, and Herbert? Can we have another one, please? Just one more story for Lex?

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POV

Most chapters are a single POV, but some require 2-3 to explain events that the main POV can’t see or doesn’t know about. This is especially important when it comes to thoughts and motivations. For this reason, sometimes we need up to three POV’s within one scene/chapter. The changes, however, are made clear within the text and only switch when necessary, such as when the main POV character moves out of a scene but more needs to be told, or a POV precedes the main POV to set the scene of location, situation and companions. The story, though, is never omnipresent in the way that you always become aware of other character’s thoughts. It’s more of a subtle blend between necessary POV’s.

I logged each POV as I was reading and there’s a nice chunk of present day POV before we slip into the necessary flashback to 3-500 CE POV. Out of the 85 chapters, a total of 25 are in the 300-400 CE and 51 are in modern day 2006, so there is a very definite focus on the present day adventure, with enough snippets of the past to give us a view of what transpired then.

Each are told not in snippets, but in logical chunks that make sense as you morph from one to another. For example, the Prologue makes sense once you reach Chapter 10 and read the events that transpire there. By Chapter 12 we move into 391 CE to begin Hypatia’s story in Ancient Egypt, returning to present day 2006 in Chapter 21. At that point, what we’ve learned in Hypatia’s part of the story makes sense of everything that came before and shows how it all came about without giving away any spoilers to what Lex experiences in 2006. Each part of the story is told in chunks, with the shortest being 2 chapters long (not including the closing chapter)

As I said, this is necessary, because of the way that the story needs to be told. It’s one thing to know that there is this large treasure hunt placed out by Hypatia that Lex has been drawn in to solve, but it’s another to see it unfold in ancient times, to understand the motivation for the task and the struggles she suffered to get to that point.

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CHARACTERS

Well, there were a whole host of amazing characters in this story and, to be honest, most of them got to show their POV at some point or another. All in all, counting my timeline of POV changes, there are 10 different POV’s given for the 2006 cast and 13 for the 300-400 CE cast.

Starting with the historical figures, here’s who we have:

Helladus, Thoth, Jovian, Olympius, Synesius, Philemon and Orestes are all acquaintances of Hypatia and their POV is only shown in the circumstances where they experience/witness things that Hypatia doesn’t. Since Hypatia is out MC for these historical sections, she’s the one that we know the most about. But, at the same time, we get a sense of who each of these men are, their political slantings and their religious beliefs. They are here to show us how warriors, teachers and politicians all see the events of this time.

For the women in Hypatia’s life, her main and her ward, we have Aspasia and Helianth, only showing their POV’s when needed.

Next to them, we have the “bad guy” squad:

Theophilus, Hierax, Cyril and Peter. These are the truly despicable people that you don’t ever imagine coming into contact with. Hierax is the hired thug, Cyril and Theophilus the higher ups of the Church and Peter a lowly sheep within the Church order who is practically a zealot himself. Their counter-point POV’s are vital to showing us what’s going on behind the scenes and what happens to the characters that Hypatia’s POV doesn’t see clearly.

And, of course, our main character for this time: Hypatia herself.

Hypatia is feisty, independent and strong willed well before a time when that kind of attitude was accepted in women. She’s smart and free with her speech, opinionated and bites back when challenged. She’s a really strong female character, written with grace, style and intelligence.

For the 2006 cast, we have an array of characters:

Lex, our MC, we’ll come back to later.

Professor Morley is the one who gets Lex into this business in the first place. Too busy to take on the task for the Commission himself, he recommends his most accomplished student to take his place. Thus, Lex begins his new journey. Morley doesn’t make a reappearance until late on in the story when his encouragement is needed to convince Lex to continue on the path.

Marco is an assistant to Basilio Regulus, a very important player in the novel. He’s a dwarf, little person, and has a huge personality and a wealth of information that makes him intriguing. I liked him instantly, but I liked him a whole lot more after Chapter 60, where he showed to be much more intelligent and aware than anyone else had given him credit for. By the time he sent a secret little gift to Lex at the end of the book, I loved Marco so much that it didn’t make sense for how little time he’d actually spent on page. But, I guess that’s just the genius of Herbert’s writing, because I did. I loved Marco and he was a great character that I’d love to see again. You know, if he, Lex and Thea would like to get together and give us another adventure? Please?

Cassondra doesn’t get her own POV, but she’s the first and only briefest mention of romantic intentions that Lex faces. Thankfully, for a story this interesting, there’s no time wasted on romance. Except for a bare moment at the beginning when he asks Cassondra on a date and she’s a royal b*tch to him.

Similarly, Ovino doesn’t get his own POV but he’s a bad guy of the worst order. High up in the Church, he’s careless, reckless and only cares about doing things his own way to get the results he wants and if there’s a failure it’s always someone else’s fault. In my mind, he’s a bigger criminal than Regulus, but we’ll come back to that later. To me, Ovino is vile.

Soterelli doesn’t get a huge part in the story, but what we see of him is intriguing and fun; I loved the scene in the airport with the beggar and the Greek sign. Both ingenious and funny. However, the man is a total sneak thief and a swindler! He’s a shockingly apt portrayal of the independent entrepreneurial archaeologists who deal with the black market.

I could have liked Thea, our only real female character of any note, but she’s a little weak for me. She doesn’t like to take responsibility for things and she can’t accept how things are or have to be. Thea is too closed minded and devout, refusing to even entertain anything not taught to her as the ‘word of God’. I find it interesting just how closed minded she is, as a scholar. She calls Lex a heathen for being an atheist and yet, she tries to use fear and threats to his soul to convince him to her way of thinking and her religion.

Similarly, Alberto is no better, except of a more violent nature and willing to do anything, even commit murder, to protect the ‘word of God’. He was first portrayed as any other archaeological lead, but his temper quickly got the better of him and exposed his true nature. I love that even he, with his devout zealousness, was swayed and tempted to believe the theories and facts that Lex regaled to him during their travels together. Much more than Thea, Alberto was similar to Regulus in how strong his belief was, and could have been convinced of the Mythos Christos eventually.

Lex and Regulus are my favourite. Though Regulus is a bad guy, I’ve learned to love and admire his ingenuity. He’s smart, questions freely that which he’s supposed to follow blindly and is smart enough to spot a golden opportunity when it falls his way. He’s perhaps the most open minded of all the characters, even Lex who is a little blinded against religion.

Lex is a real free spirit, smart and opinionated, respectful of history, open minded but with a firm belief in facts and evidence. He’s adventurous but ill-equipped to be an Indiana Jones, with a lack of capacity for orientating himself in time and space, for being mindful of his surroundings and his company, for seeing the small signs of betrayal and challenging them. Like any other college student dragged into something that gets them in way over their head.

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WRITING

A great deal of research has gone into this, to supply texture, knowledge, a wealth of realism and authenticity. It’s not overwhelming in description, info dumps or the technical terms. As someone who has studied history, forensics, archaeology and worked in a museum, although I understand all of these terms, any other reader will be able to read, follow and understand this.

As someone who has studied archaeology, Ancient Egypt and who is a big conspiracy buff, I was scared that I’d know too much and see into all the cracks left over from underwhelming research or attempts to make history seem more magical and sparkly than it really was, or that I’d know too little for the subject area and not be able to tell if it was real or not. I needn’t have worried.

The author did such an incredible job of being authentic, knowledgeable and approachable for all – whether the reader knew about the history/procedures or not – that even someone who had no prior knowledge of anything related to the themes of the story – religion, history, archaeology, theology – could follow and understand the story perfectly.

I have discalcula and have trouble dealing with numbers, but even I didn’t feel overwhelmed or confused by the constant mathematics included within the solving of the riddles. In fact, the handy printable key that we were warned about before beginning the book (which I downloaded and printed) was immensely helpful. If I’d wanted to check every single calculation, they were all described so clearly as to how they came about and what kind of mathematics they entailed that I could have done so if I wanted to. But I didn’t need to. The magic of the facts of the mathematics was that it was all right there on the page for me to work out and understand. The helpful little diagrams inserted in images were also a fantastic resource to help my understanding.

For an ARC, I have to admit that there were very few editing issues. The only things I noticed were a missing quotation mark or two. For a book that is 530 pages (in my PDF copy) that is remarkable!

I loved the way that the flashbacks were used and explored. They allowed me to connect to Lex’s discoveries in a very visceral way. When he wonders who last saw/did or experienced the events of his quest, I knew the answers and it gave me a sweet, fluttery connection that the historian in me loves.

The amount of research and planning needed to devise the locking mechanisms and their codes is mind-bogglingly staggering and totally genius.

I love the addition of quotes at the head of chapters, offering a diversity of sources and quotes relating to God and the mission. Each one added a little bit of extra insight or understanding or the material we were about to read and explore with Lex.

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PLOT

Right from the start, I was hooked. Page one, beginning with the Prologue and introducing us to the KSG, the brotherhood and the assassin Stephanos had me eager to explore what came next and gave me an idea of just what kind of adventure this would be. Although using 2006 as the present day, the writing in the Prologue and some of the following chapters dealing with the Church, had an old fashioned flair to it, and to Stephanos, that made sense within the context of the story.

As we moved on to Chapter 1 and met Lex, the passion and intelligence of a well argued and believable theory had me hooked on his character from the get go. There’s nothing I love more than an impassioned speech that is not only informative but also logical. This is from an atheist who loves a good conspiracy and is obsessed with literature. For all these reasons and more, Lex spoke to me, by tackling all of these things at once. The fact that the author then went on to introduce us to the mission through Morley’s POV and cleverly skipped recounting those details to Lex, by jumping straight to Lex arriving in Alexandria was perfect. There was no useless repeat of information, just logical thought processes and follow through, because it was obvious to me, at least, that Lex would jump at the opportunity, so I didn’t need to see the big reveal of the mission or hear his thoughts on it. They were made clear by his previous speech and his personality.

Lex’s journey really explored his character to the fullest. I loved watching him slip into danger, take off on his own and somehow come back full circle to end up with a team again, but knowing that it was always for a reason. It was so sad and gutting, but smart too, that he had to use his laptop as payment. It would destroy me to give up mine, but I loved how quick thinking he was and that he was inventive, while without funds and resources.

Lex proved to be very entertaining when sleep deprived, interesting to read about and his passionate exploration of the codes and ciphers was captivating. The way that he was written allowed me to feel like I knew him, that I understood his thought processes even when they were completely foreign to me and that he was a real person, struggling through this journey. And there we were, watching it all unfold, while being unable to shout out the warnings that his lack of self-awareness required.

What I liked most about Lex was that he might have been slow on the uptake about a few things, but it wasn’t for lack of intelligence. It was the usual young scholarly inward thinking and insular personality that most intense students have. But also had a lot to do with us readers begin given all the pieces of the puzzle, while Lex was left without the pivotal corner pieces. Watching him work his way through the intellectual puzzles he was used to, while trying to navigate a world or social and professional issues that he had never encountered before was fascinating. It might have taken a little while for him to figure out the ‘coincidences’ of ‘losing’ his phone and being unable to send e-mails or just how ingenious Regulus had been at one point, but it never stopped him from trying to do something about it once he knew. He was smart and had a trickle of street smarts that kept him alive in impossible situations.

I really liked that the story subtly or not explored the very real financial struggle for academia and how even the brightest students can’t find the aid to continue their studies. Lex’s enthusiasm for his studies was clear, but it was sad to discover that he might not be able to continue on without financial aid which he was unlikely to get. I had wondered if the mission and the Church would pay for his schooling, because of the task he was departing on, but the end resolution was far more rewarding than I’d expected.

Similarly, I liked that some of the chapters were short and to the point, maintaining singular POV’s when necessary and only mixing POV’s within a chapter when the events continued but the POV had of them had changed. This meant that there was no confusion over the timeline or of where/when events were taking place.

The ‘Moses’ statue that began all of this really intrigued me, right from the start, but which I loved the most was the delicate care and composure with which it was treated by both Marco, who discovered it, and Regulus who further inspected it. Having worked in a museum, I was so glad to see proper procedure being followed, for handling delicate/ancient objects. This care and attention continued throughout the story, despite the unorthodox circumstances. The characters were always professional enough to observe the proper protocol, even in the most dire of circumstances.

It was really nice to see a direct link between the present day events and the flashbacks, giving us a view of how these events came about without spoiling the secret until it was the right time. Showing the events in order would have ruined some of the surprise and intrigue, so I was really pleased to see how well the flashbacks had been used. They brought things into focus, helping make sense of what we’d read and answered questions I’d asked up to that point. In this way, there was the perfect balance between present day and flashbacks. Neither felt too overwhelming or like it was taking over the story.

The great blend of history, archaeology, contemporary and theology only continued as we travelled back to 391 CE to explore the beginning of the trail Lex was following and got to see and experience how it all originally unfolded. The writing was so evocative and the characterisation subtle in a way that I was saddened to see this pagan religion being dismantled, in such a forceful, ignorant, destructive way. I really felt for Hypatia and Thoth, who seemed to suffer the most grief over what was being done.

The attention to detail and the historical accuracy of the time, for someone who has studied Ancient Egypt, was incredible. There was such realism to the carefully crafted balance of visual description.

The story, even in these Ancient times, touched upon some very serious and not-often-discussed topics that were explored with depth, realism and also a delicate awareness of the seriousness, compassion and care. For example, in one flashback of the 411 CE, the story deals with a rape. Christian monks storm a pagan party, planning to cause chaos and are spotted by a young girl. Before she can warn anyone, she’s captured and, later, through Helladus’ POV we see what happened to her. Disturbingly, but due to the need for the thought processes in explanation of what’s happening, we also get the rapist’s POV for a brief moment, before the attack. His thought process shows how deluded zealots can be, insisting that a girl is a temptress sent by Satan just because she’s pretty and the zealot can’t control himself around her. This view of a naked/pretty woman – usually exposed to their eyes by their own violence – is repeated again near the end of the story, within Hypatia’s POV as a priest warns the zealots from being tempted by the sins of the flesh, as though the naked woman before them revealed herself (after having her clothes ripped by the zealots) to purposefully fill them with lust.

It’s actually a typical, historically proven excuse that devoutly religious men use when caught committing sin – they blame it on a ‘temptress’ rather than admit that it’s merely part of their own vile nature. The rapist in this case even has three other monks hold the girl down and, later, the Archbishop excuses his actions with the claim he “merely succumbed to the feminine wiles of a whore.

The story covers not only the eradication of paganism but the misuse of power by those with authority, the eradication of Jews and shows how the Church – both in the past and present – have always been willing to do whatever it takes to encourage people to remain sheep, to never think for themselves or challenge their teachings, regardless of the proof. Worst, they will condone and sanction violence “in the name/service of God” far too often. This is something we can see time and again throughout history and is not relegated to the Christian faith, but is prevalent throughout all religions. Perhaps, this is part of the reason I’m an atheist. There were a lot of quotes I could have used to show this, from within the story, but some of them held really big spoilers, so I’ve kept them to myself.

By page 423 (about 80%) we were able to see that Hypatia had placed her clues in reverse order, explaining how she had intended the ‘Moses’ statue (the identity of which is revealed at the end) to be found and used, by who and when. It also explains how the Church got a hold of it in the first place and why it wasn’t destroyed. It was all so cleverly explored that it not only made perfect sense and seemed entirely logical in terms of realism, but it was a piece of genius plotting and writing that made the writer in me giddy with joy.

When we finally reached the end of Hypatia’s story, it was brutal but pretty much what I’d expected from how Cyril had been behaving. It didn’t lessen the emotional blow, however, which hit me hard. As did the ending, where I cried over Jovian and Helladus filling the secret library. It was so sad and touching to know all that they had suffered and fought their emotional and spiritual trials to build this library, all that they’d endured and overcome, only to know the final outcome in 2006. It was so gut-wrenching but also kind of beautiful and symbolic, too!

And that Bennu sighting? Ugh…it broke my heart and made my day all at the same time. So perfect!

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OVERALL

I didn’t want to finish this book and yet, I did. I needed desperately to know what happened, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to be over. There was so much in here that spoke to me, as a person, a historical, an Ancient Egyptian fan, a reader and a writer. It spoke to all the academic parts of me that make me who I am and I never wanted it to end.

This was one large but entertaining read full of adventure, excitement, history and passion that touched on the very cornerstones of humanity and challenged every strongest held belief that we humans hold dear. Our faith. Whether that’s for religion or something else, this story will challenge you in all kind of ways. If you’re deeply religious, prepare to have your beliefs chopped up, churned into butter and spat out into a pretty cupcake, because they’ll come out looking so different to how they went in.

One very large part of the story is the proof that religion and religious disagreements are the biggest cause of pain and bloodshed in the human world. Religion, more than any other belief, causes more evil and violence than anything else. But another part is that humans hold our beliefs dear and God help anyone who dares to take that away.

If you like The Da Vince Code, Lara Croft, National Treasure and/or Indiana Jones then you’ll love this. It’s the perfect blend of intellect, conspiracy and adventure for any historian, archaeologist, theologist or just any reader who loves a good conspiracy and who doesn’t mind challenging the concepts of Christianity and religion. If you do mind, then you might find that the well researched and intelligent arguments leave you questioning everything or at least with a more open mind than when you started.

If nothing else, you’ll feel and think. Because that’s what this book does. It makes you care, belief and feel for the characters and their quest. It makes you question and calculate and wonder over every small detail.

Prepare to question everything.

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FAVOURITE QUOTE

I have far too many to count, so I’m only including the ones that don’t have spoilers.

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We tend to form biases, he thought, and see things the way we believe them to be.

Ignorance begets fear, she thought, which in turn begets violence.

Deep down, however, he felt no animosity toward Lex. It was more of a cold respect, the deepest positive emotion Basilio had the capacity to feel for another human being.

They seem to be fueled by hatred, Orestes mused.

He felt as though he were living a nightmare from which he could not awaken.

Basilio grinned broadly when he saw the door at the bottom of the shaft had been opened. Surrounded by ineptitude, it pleased him to witness the Oxford student apply his considerable intellect to such a gauntlet of ancient riddles, any one of which might have stumped the greatest minds in the field. Signore Thomasson had proven efficient and unfailing in their quest. It was a shame he had to die.

And for its seeker the Truth patiently waited, far beneath the sands of time.

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