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If you don’t like Catholics and the Catholic Church, then this is the book for you.
Frankly, I was quite shocked when I finished reading this. I have long been a fan of Mr. Berry’s and have read everything he’s ever written. When I started this one, I was excited. It was great to see Cotton Malone back in action and Luke Daniels, his mini-me. I thought the inclusion of the Hospitallers boded well because The Templar Legacy remains my favorite Berry novel. Instead, I actually felt that my intelligence was insulted by the end of this and that, as a Catholic, I was being insulted as well.
One of the reasons many of my Catholic friends get irritated with me is because I encourage them to face up to the many things the Church does and has done wrong. I don’t dismiss novels with evil Catholic characters because there is evil everywhere. I especially like evil characters who tell us something important about ourselves and throw a light on what the Church can do better. I also think that a balance of good and evil characters can offer contrast and enlightenment.
Of course, in a Cotton Malone novel, we know that Cotton and his crew are going to be the good guys. Is that any reason to have nothing but unredeemable evil amongst the Catholics in the novel, from the lowliest priest and layperson to the highest clergy? Cassocked assassin squads everywhere. A curia so corrupt that enough Cardinals can be swayed by blackmail and unflattering historical documents to throw a conclave. Subterranean prisons inside churches. Executions.
It’s not difficult to notice the streak of conservatism in this alternate universe Mr. Berry has been creating over the years. Being somewhat conservative myself, I can appreciate that. But I’ve noted in some of my previous reviews where I think he has gone a bit overboard with what can be easily construed as antisemitism and racism. You can’t blame it on your characters when the entire worldview of the novel encourages those interpretations. (For example, Cotton never stands up against the machinations of this world’s Church. He doesn’t do what is right. He simply does what he was hired to do and, in the end, walks away as if in resignation—this is simply what to expect from the Catholic Church. My love of Cotton dropped a notch when he walked away.)
In the end, all this anti-Catholicism was compounded by what is simply flawed story in the last 100 pages. The initial drive of this novel is to find Constantine’s Gift. In our world, this document is a famous forgery supposedly written by Constantine granting the Western empire to the Catholic Church. In Berry’s world…well, let me just say that when we finally get to read the text it is ridiculous. Then there is the artificial ticking clock to the start of the conclave that could’ve been stopped hours ahead of time with a simple phone call. But, if that had happened, we would’ve been forced to miss the final chase scene.
All in all, I find this novel disappointing on so many levels, especially after so many years of fandom. But I will let Mr. Berry and Cotton have a pass this time—this Catholic doesn’t hold a grudge—and hope the next one is better.
I read this book as an intro to the author, and I gave up about 1/3 of the way through the book. The story was too unbelievable for me to enjoy. There were so many things that were just silly (like a bear that breaks into a house and chases the protagonist out onto a balcony) that I couldn't keep reading, even though I normally like these types of novels.
I have read all of Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone books and have enjoyed them all. I will continue to read them. That being said, this one was a bit of a disappointment. The story was confusing and often it was not clear which character was speaking. Mr. Berry tossed in so many Latin phrases, secret Vatican officers, and Malta Knights jargon that I stopped paying attention - I thought there was no way that all this obscure info could affect the plot and the outcome. And I was right. There was a lot of other distracting filler as well, particularly anecdotes about Luke’s boyhood in Tennessee. After a while I just skimmed until I noticed something that might move the story along. But the story itself is interesting.... if only Mr. Berry’s editor had done a better job. On another topic, many of the negative reviews of this book take issue with the book (and Mr. Berry’s) treatment of Christianity and Catholicism. Please do not let those comments deter you from reading the book. First of all, none of the factual assertions in the book are new. The controversy over what actually happened at the Council of Nicaea has been around for decades, if not longer. Secondly, the issues raised by the novel are all valid questions which reasonable people should be able to read about without getting angry. I was raised as a Catholic and none of the conclusions reached in the book have affected my views of God or religion. If these negative reviewers believe that readers are going to be swayed by the questions raised by the book, they underestimate their followers. If a devout Christian is unable to withstand a healthy discussion about disputed history, maybe this book and those like it aren’t the real problem.
I love Steve Berry’s books, his clever plots, and his well-painted characters, but this one left me flat, for four reasons: one general and three specific.
In general, as a Catholic, I am used to authors such as Berry who dislike Catholicism, Christianity in general, and religion as a whole. Nothing new in our ultra-secular, materialist culture and it sells well. Criticism is good and necessary and often humorous. Few can argue that either faith in general or the Church in particular cannot benefit from it. But what I read was not criticism or poking fun but disdain. It is gratuitous, unnecessary, and in my opinion harms the story’s appeal.
Specifically, three things consistently cause the book to ring hollow throughout, taking the energy out of the book. One, all the clerics in the story are monsters. Not one or two multifaceted characters who have chosen evil in certain actions, but all grotesque caricatures. One monster cleric is believable, but all clerics being monsters makes the bad guys ridiculous and unbelievable. Silly rather than scary. That hurts the story. At least one lowly good guy priest should have been included to make it more believable. Or a priest who does evil things believing that they are good or believing that they are necessary for a greater good. Ends justifying the means, etc. Grey is a lot more interesting and believable than everything being black or white.
Second, not a single cleric or person related to the Church displays the most basic faith. Even if one believes that the Church and the Catholic faith are wholly invalid, the fact remains that priests, bishops, and archbishops do have faith. Some to be sure are cold, calculating, power hungry, and criminal, but they retain a basic faith, even if they choose evil. Even if they all lost their faith over time, they would at least speak with the language of faith, instead of the language of murderous bureaucrats as in the book.
Third, finally (spoiler alert), the plot revolves around a lost 4th century blueprint document that instructs bishops on bogus doctrines to create the Church and control the masses. Again, even if one believes that the Church, its doctrines, and religion in general are wholly invalid, it is completely unbelievable that the Church or the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem - a 906 year old Catholic lay religious order whose motto is to defend the faith and serve their Lords the poor and sick - would keep a copy of such a document. I was expecting something more clever than a piece of paper that says ‘the Church is bogus’.
If this is Steve Berry at his best, as one reviewer states, then I won’t be buying any more of his work. Indeed, this is the first of his novels I’ve tried and I could get through only half. While I liked some of the history (e.g., Mussolini and Churchill, the Knights of Malta, the Catholic Church, etc.), I found the plot very gimmicky and not credible, not to mention really derivative. I mean how many times do we need to be treated to puzzles and palindromes? And the characters…well…there just isn’t much to them, either the so-called heroes or the villains. And there are so many of them and the focus keeps shifting and jumping amongst them—which makes it really tough to keep them straight or maintain focus on what’s going on, much less care about them or what they’re trying to accomplish. There's no one who's particularly charming or funny or heroic or deliciously evil. And even though this deals with the Catholic Church (which I’m not a member of—so no “axe to grind” pro or con), it really doesn't touch upon faith. Which is too bad, because that might have helped expand the characters to something more than half-dimensional. The villains lust after power (to what end I’m not sure) and the “heroes” don’t seem to have any reason at all for doing what they do. Yes, there is a goodly amount of action—lots of chasing and fighting and killing, if you’re into that--but not a lot of tension. And since the author hasn't given us characters to care about, we can't really care what happens. All in all, a waste of $15.00 and the time it took to get as far as I got.
I have notice in several of Mr Berry’s books he has an anti religion and specifically anti Catholic bent. Several other reviewers have documented his anti religion position. The very end of the book where he prints a quote sums up his view. He fails to look at Jesus Christ as the origin of Christianity. There is no significant mention of The Holy Bible as standard or source of Christianity. He has distorted history to push his position. God’s story in human. History is documented in the Old and New Testaments. Church doctrines are groups of people’s take on the Bible. Obviously Luther as a devout Catholic saw the Bible as the Standard but every group ends up with their own doctrine. If Mr Berry had focused on particular doctrines and stated his objections the book would be more palatable. I see this book as an open attack on religion and specifically Christianity and the Catholic faith. I agree with some previous reviews that I will probably not support Mr Berry ‘s pension plan by buying future books. I have generally liked Cotton Malone but the are plenty of other series which provide entertainment without indoctrination.
I’ve read and own ALL of Steve Berry’s books and always find them captivating and thrilling. I love the historical implications and Cotton seems like and “old friend”. The Malta Exchange has been just an OK read for me, I think there was too much going on with Luke and Cotton having separate story lines most of the book as well as too many points of view from the other characters. Also Luke’s flasbacks to life lessons learned growing up in Tennessee, his multitude of mentions of his Morher’s wisdom, etc. slowed down the action quite a bit and I had a hard time getting through the book with enjoyment of every word. One interesting thing that gave me food for thought was Cotton thinking about the Malone bloodline ending with him and his unease regarding that. Perhaps there is a baby in his and Cassiopeia’s future?
I’m very conflicted about this book by Steve Berry. I liked some aspects of it, didn’t like other aspects. I liked the historical perspective; I learned a lot about Mussolini and the Italian involvement in WWII; I learned a lot about Catholicism, office of the Pope, the Knights Templar, the republic of Malta, etc. What I didn’t like were any of the characters. Ive read other of Berry’s books which featured Cotton Malone, but this time around he really seemed like a superhero action figure, James Bond, and Indiana Jones rolled into one huge implement of power and destruction. Other characters in the story were comparable, but not all made it to the end. So if you like over the top action, this is for you. If you like historical perspective, this is for you. If you like both, this really is for you!
Steve Berry is a very good writer, but this one is just average. Lots of characters with plot focusing on action, some believable, some not. Malta has a very rich history, and he could have woven more of that history into his story. So, the story could have been richer, with more depth given to the characters and the history of Malta. But it is pretty shallow with lots of violence, but no meaningful conversation between characters. With lots of plot twists, I found myself confused at times as to who was who. I was not engaged by this novel as I have been with many of his past works.