The Witch of Babylon (Mesopotamian Trilogy, Book #1)
by D.J. McIntosh
Release Date: June 7th, 2011
2011 Penguin Canada
Softcover Edition; 320 Pages
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Source: Review copy from Penguin Canada
3 / 5 Stars
The Witch of Babylon features John Madison, a New York art dealer caught up in the aftermath of the looting of the Baghdad Museum. It includes an elaborate puzzle that must be solved in order to locate a missing biblical antiquity and a spectacular lost treasure, as well as alchemy, murder, and the Mesopotamian cult of Istar. Alternating between war-torn Baghdad and New York, with forays into ancient Mesopotamian culture, The Witch of Babylon takes readers deep inside the world of Assyriology and its little-known but profound significance for the modern world.
The Witch of Babylon is the first in a planned Mesopotamian Trilogy, and I enjoyed it mainly due to the interesting and fascinating amount of historical information that was included in this thriller. I am always attracted to long-ago secrets and long-lost treasures and this one definitely had both. Include a game of puzzles the protagonist had to figure out as he was being chased by his enemies, this one had all the earmarks of a typical archaeological thriller/suspense.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this novel was the author's writing style. I found it succinct and to the point, and even though it sometimes took on a lecturing tone as these types of novels tend to do, it didn't bother me in the slightest as I really enjoy learning anything I can about ancient cultures, historical and anthropological. The inclusion of the puzzles that had to be deciphered did have more of a "DaVinci Code" feel to it, but were quite unique to this novel and on a different level altogether, more personal to the protagonist and the victim. While I didn't find the puzzles as interesting as The DaVinci Code or other novels I have read, but this didn't deter me from the plot or the characters. And I also tried the puzzles located on the author's website too. Fun!!!
One of the things I thought was done very well in this novel was showing how isolated John Madison really was in this world, especially after his brother, who had taken care of him after his parents died, was killed himself in a horrific car crash. As his world crumbled, and he became suspicious of everyone around him, he became more introspective about his life, and really questioned who was in his life and why. This aspect of the novel I enjoyed very much, and it really showed how spoiled John really was and the changes he needed to go through in order to get on with his life and become a mature, confident man. Despite all this, I found it difficult to connect with him on an emotional level and wanted to shake him sometimes for his complacency in certain situations. He seemed to always want to let others do the work for him, and even though he cared for others, he did seem to care for himself first and foremost.
With all of that being said, I do see potential in John and in a lot of the secondary characters and I really hope to see them again in future novels as with development, these characters can become quite interesting and intriguing. There seems to be some background information we have yet to discover and I am interested enough to want to learn more about all of them.
Having read quite a few archaeological thrillers / suspense, I did find the plot to be somewhat predictable and formulaic, and even the ending which I suspect was supposed to be a 'surprise ending' didn't really come as much of a surprise to me. While I really enjoyed the first-half of the novel, I did find the second-half to drag somewhat, despite the interesting archaeological information, and I had to push myself to finish it. I am really impressed with the amount of research that went into this novel however, and I can't even imagine the hours that must have been spent doing that task. Kudos to the author for a very interesting, and well documented, historical background, some of which I suspect is a set-up for the next two novels.
The Witch of Babylon is an interesting first novel in a planned Mesopotamian Trilogy and while I enjoyed most of it, there were some parts that I had difficulty with, and I did find it a bit predictable. I do however, see a lot of promise in the main character, John Madison, and even though he wasn't my favourite character in this novel, I would love to see him grow and develop and see where his character ends up. I will definitely read the next novel in this trilogy just to see what happens next and to clear up some questions that came up in this one.