Note: Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing the Advance Reading Copy of this title.
Before you ask, yes it’s that Gillian Anderson. Scully herself has finally decided to venture into the world of sci-fi authorhood and I managed to get a sneaky advance peek. How could I resist after all, surely having been steeped in some of the best mind-twisting weirdness that 90s TV had to offer must have left some indelible mark, right? Erm, well… not really.
But before I get into that, let’s have a quick synopsis. Caitlin O’Hara is a New York City child psychologist. Already charged with the task of single-handedly raising her own son while balancing a high-pressure job she suddenly finds herself pushed to her limits by a seemingly insane new assignment. This is a world in our near future, a world on the brink of nuclear catastrophe thanks to building pressure between India and Kashmir. Tensions are high at the UN and the talk on the streets is of war erupting any day now. So when Ganak Pawar, the Indian representative to the UN, narrowly survives an assassination attempt in front of his daughter Maanik, things take a turn for the worse.
Maanik soon starts developing worrying symptoms, slipping into what seems to be a coma and becoming, despite Caitlin’s scientific outlook (more on that later), apparently possessed by someone else entirely, speaking in tongues and manifesting even more bizarre effects in the world around her. Meanwhile in Haiti another young girl is suffering similar symptoms while in Iran a young boy apparently immolated himself following his brother’s execution for homosexuality. All three cases seem to be linked and finding the connection may be the only way to avert global disaster. To further complicate things a cabal of international treasure hunters has unearthed an artifact which seems to be driving all nearby animals insane. Caitlin only has a small window in which to put the pieces together.
So far, so good. A Vision Of Fire is driven by a decent plot, a bit worn around the edges but certainly has potential. Just a shame that the potential is never realised. A Vision Of Fire could have been an intriguing thriller but instead comes across as Deepak Chopra and Dan Brown ghost-writing for L Ron Hubbard. Can it be that bad? Well let’s go through those one by one. It’s Chopra in that the lead character is supposed to be a scientist – well, a psychologist anyway – yet instantly drops anything resembling critical thinking the second anybody murmurs some mystical woo to her. No application of Occam’s Razor, not even a suggestion that alternative hypotheses may be equally viable. Nope, it’s just “Oh, you say she’s talking to people from another dimension? Wow, I’d never thought of that, thanks!” It’s hideous and it infects every mention of anything vaguely scientific in the book. The last time I felt such science-rage at a work of fiction was the detestable The Happening where Marky Mark spent two hours looking confused and spouting bullshit because trees were making people commit suicide.
The Dan Brown reference is in regard to the writing itself. It’s clunky, simplistic and seems shoddy even for the genre of airport fiction to which they both belong. To be fair, maybe this is just me. Not being a bored, forty-something housewife crammed full of red wine and valium I’m not either of their target markets. Regardless, some of the sentences contained within, right from the outset, will put your teeth on edge. The L Ron Hubbard thing. Well, read the book and keep your knowledge of Scientology at the front of your mind. I bet I can predict at which paragraph face will meet palm. Maybe just a coincidence but sheesh, it could be an advert for those kooks…
It’s pretty rare I post a negative review here thanks to having read an almost uninterrupted run of wonderful books for the past few years. However I have to be honest and this one was a big disappointment. It could have been good but it’s not like it just narrowly missed the mark, it was a mile off. I had to struggle to get to the end and I can’t say I’ll be hanging around to see how the sequels play out. Sometimes people should just stick to what they’re good at.