I recently received a review copy of The Forbidden Book from the publisher, Disinformation, and I was very excited to dive right in. Its pedigree warranted my excitement: I’ve been a long time fan of Disinformation’s catalog of work, the authors – Joscelyn Godwin and Guido Mina di Sospiro – are both respected in their fields, and the positive blurbs that accompanied the book were from a virtual who’s who of notable esotericists, such as Mitch Horowitz, Gary Lachman, and Graham Hancock.
From the book description found on Amazon — A multi-faceted mystery that incorporates the most serious and sensitive issue of our time: religious extremism. The evocative setting of Venice and the Veneto dominates the action, supplemented by vivid scenes in Santiago de Compostela, Provence, Washington, and the Vatican. Occult beliefs and practices fuel the action as the main characters become embroiled in an aristocratic sex magick plot.
While on one level The Forbidden Book is a murder mystery set against the conflicts of Islam and the West, the book also delves deep into esoteric knowledge and practice, thanks to Guido Mina di Sospiro’s extensive knowledge of Catholicism and Joscelyn Godwin’s authoritative studies of the western esoteric tradition. Underlying the fast paced action, the reader will find a profound treatment of moral and political dilemmas, the conflict of religions, and the frightening possibilities of the occult.
Sounds like something right up my alley, doesn’t it? Believe me, I was immediately captivated by The Forbidden Book and was prepared to make favorable comparisons to novels such as Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s El Club Dumas, and John Fowles’ The Magus. Unfortunately the work began to fall apart for me about 80 pages in as it began to mirror more the lesser writings of talespinners such as Dan Brown and Steve Berry than of the previously mentioned authors.
All of the novel’s promise evaporated for me as it dissolved into cliché after cliché, character development ground to a screeching halt, and coincidences began to pile up at an alarming rate. Never before has a novel offered so much but delivered so little. It was really quite maddening, especially given my initial enchantment.
There is so much untapped potential on the page. The bare bones are there, but the narrative becomes so stiff that it reads as rough translation from a foreign tongue. It’s like an intriguing first draft that begs to be revisited and fleshed out. It is so unfortunate, because I wanted to love this book. And I almost did.
The esoteric bits concerning sexual alchemy, ritual, and the Il Mondo magico de gli heroi are very well done, but the rest of the book is so reckless and poorly managed — littered as it is with cardboard characters, inept criminals, and the unconvincing insertion of the police procedural (whose most time honored tropes are mangled to an almost laughable level).
All that being said, there is an audience for this sort of thing. Millions of copies sold of The Da Vinci Code attests to the fact. I just expected something more than what I got. It was all there, begging to be delivered. The authors, in this instance, dropped the proverbial egg.
If you’d like to try it on for size, The Forbidden Book is available via download on Amazon.