Book Review: ‘The Nostradamus Prophecies’ by Mario Reading
After struggling through the life of Madame Bovary, I needed something light and easy for my next book. Enter The Nostradamus Prophecies by Mario Reading (not to be confused with The Nostradamus Prophecy by John S Powell or Theresa Breslin), one of the bargain books I picked up whilst travelling in Taiwan.
Now I will preface my review with the statement that I have nothing against Mario Reading. I think he’s a good writer and very knowledgeable when it comes to Nostradamus. I also read his blog and it’s actually great, and he seems like a nice guy.
But I have to call it like it is and say that The Nostradamus Prophecies was ultimately a disappointment.
I was initially drawn to the book because it looked like one of those Dan Brown-esque action thrillers with some interesting, semi-factual context thrown in (eg on the cover it says “An Ancient Secret; A Deadly Conspiracy); that and because I have always been deeply fascinated by Nostradamus and his prophecies.
It tells the story of a man called Adam Sabir, a writer who also happens to be a Nostradamus expert (and appears to be very closely based on Mario Reading himself). Sabir responds to an advertisement that suggests someone has in his possession missing verses from Nostradamus’ prophecies, but ends up being framed for a crime and having both the French police and the henchman of a clandestine cult on his trail. Doesn’t sound like the most original of plots, but I wasn’t exactly expecting one when I bought it.
The Nostradamus Prophecies had all the elements to be great. An fascinating premise based around a legendary figure with a cult-like following around the world and prophecies that foretell the end of days. An intellectual protagonist on the run. A few interesting secondary and minor characters. A dangerous, shadowy antagonist who will stop at nothing.
But somehow, none of those elements came together in the book. My biggest gripe with The Nostradamus Prophecies is that Nostradamus and his prophecies don’t drive the storyline. They become almost an afterthought during the tussle between Sabir and his chasers. We don’t learn much about the life of Nostradamus, how he came to write these prophecies, or what they may contain (until the last couple of pages). The Nostradamus prophecies become merely a plot device to get the ball rolling — there are perhaps one or two little riddles, but at no time do we feel like we are drawn into some deep mystery or that finding the prophecies would lead to some marvellous revelation. And that’s a shame because it felt like there was enough there to make it a truly explosive and intelligent adventure in the vein of The Da Vinci Code.
As a result, The Nostradamus Prophecies runs through to the end never having that “wow” factor or that unputdownable feeling. Yes, most of the short chapters end on a minor cliffhanger, but the tension just isn’t there. I kept waiting for that moment where I would really get into it and want to keep reading deep into the night, but unfortunately it never came.
A big part of the problem lies with the antagonist, who has the silly nickname of the “eye-man”. He is no doubt a dangerous and violent villain, but for some strange reason he instilled little fear in me. Perhaps it was because his intelligence or craftiness never shone through.
The most fascinating part of The Nostradamus Prophecies ended up being the things we learn about France’s gypsies. It’s an amazing world, an oft-misunderstood culture that most people would have trouble believing still exists today. The story’s two main gypsy characters, Yola and Alexi, turn out to be the most interesting in the book. So from that perspective at least, I can say the book did very well, but I wanted to read the book because of what I might learn about Nostradamus, not gypsies!
However, to be fair, I don’t think the misleading title or blurb is entirely Reading’s fault. The original title was The 52, but it was changed for promotional purposes to reign in readers with a fascination for Nostradamus. Sadly, if the novel was advertised as a story about gypsy culture, I don’t think it would be the international bestseller is has become today.
Reading The Nostradamus Prophecies gave me a new appreciation for The Da Vinci Code. For all the criticism Dan Brown’s writing as received, he is a master at blending fact and fiction into an exciting story with break-neck pace. So many people out there think it’s an easy thing to do and requires no great skill, but as the plethora of similar books in recent years has proven, it’s much harder than it looks.
So maybe I am being too harsh on The Nostradamus Prophecies. After all, a poor book wouldn’t be translated into multiple languages and sell more than 150,000 copies (and rapidly increasing). I just found out that The Nostradamus Prophecies is the first book in a Nostradamus “trilogy”, and the second book is being released in the UK in August 2010. I hope this one will focus more on Nostradamus and really make us think about what his prophecies mean for the world in the next few years.
I think Reading’s biggest obstacle stems from the fact that he is such a knowledgeable expert on Nostradamus that it becomes hard for him to distill that knowledge into a story that is both educational and exciting for the casual reader. Make us believe in the prophecies. Teach us more about Nostradamus and the third Antichrist he foretells. If he can do that then the second book could be a ripper.
I sincerely hope he succeeds.
2.5 stars out of 5!