The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell

23 September, 2010

I confess I picked this book up because of its alluring cover. I’m just a sucker for beautiful covers and this one was particularly gothic and evocative. However, I borrowed this months ago from the library but didn’t seem to get a chance to read it, and I was going to return it unread (I know, don’t judge me!) but decided I’d just read it a little while I waited for my lunch to be assembled. And I found it to be different. Different from what I expected, different from other books of the kind, just different. But very good. So I returned another book (also unread) and renewed this one.

The Ninth Circle is Alex Bell‘s debut novel. But it doesn’t read like one. It’s assured tone, smooth delivery and constant suspense keeps you turning the pages. I don’t think I felt bored or that there was any unnecessary sentence in the novel.

Gabriel Antaeus wakes up one morning lying in his own blood with a sore head and no memories. There’s a bag of money, a clean apartment and lots of books about heaven and hell on his bookshelf. As he tries to piece back his memories and get back his life, he is plagued by strange dreams and visions of a sinister burning figure. Apparently he is all alone in this world and he doesn’t like it. He makes a friend in Zadkiel Stephomi whom he is unsure whether to trust and who seems to know more than he lets on. He finds himself a neighbour to Casey, a pregnant teenager and he keeps seeing visions of a woman who is desperately trying to get away from him. Who is he and will he find out before his nightmares get the better of him? And what is the Ninth Circle?

I was continually surprised by the twists in this tale. Although I guessed a few things, Bell’s novel truly is accomplished stuff. The chapters are short and written in the first person. There is a fresh honesty to Gabriel’s character and we feel his loneliness and pain the same as he does. His confusion, disorientation and revulsion with anything immoral or bloody makes you question what he truly is. And his constant referral to and visions of angels and demons are puzzles that you try and tease out but are continually confounded. The Ninth Circle is the closest circle in hell to where Lucifer is bound, the ultimate resting place for traitors and betrayers. Bell’s allusions to Dante’s The Divine Comedy and Goethe’s Faust make the mystery more compelling, and I have to say that it was a true pleasure to read. But Bell doesn’t just let you get comfortable with the classical ideas of heaven and hell. She gives it a good twist and chucks in some modern bits. I don’t think I’ve read anything like this in recent years.

If you like your fiction religious with a touch of controversy, relativism and the fantastic, search no more. This is wonderful fiction: strange, erudite and passionate. And nothing like The Da Vinci Code and its ilk. I can’t wait to read her next book, Jasmyn.

This is a perfect book for Carl’s R.I.P. V Challenge.

5 Responses to “The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell”

  1. amymckie Says:

    Hmm… sounds intriguing, and very different from anything else that I’ve read.

  2. Steph Says:

    I would absolutely pick this one up based on its cover alone… glad to hear the innards justify the cool outside! 😉

  3. Kailana Says:

    I’m with Steph. I really like the cover!

  4. Charlie Says:

    I love this book, it’s likely to be my favourite of the year. Jasmyn is very different but has the same sort of wow factor, hope you enjoy it!

  5. Violet Says:

    I’m a sucker for an excellent cover too! Alex Bell sounds like a writer to watch out for. Glad you enjoyed the book so much; it’s a nice surprise when we pick up a book, not expecting too much, and it delivers the goods. 🙂

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