Thursday, September 3, 2015

Great Historical Fantasy: "The Einstein Prophecy"

The Einstein Prophecy by Robert Masello begins with an ominous epigraph. It’s a quote from Albert Einstein, which reads: “I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth—rocks.” From there, I was hooked, and the rest of the book never let me down.

The novel is another example of historical fantasy at its best. The story is set during World War II and Hitler’s quest for occult artifacts that he believes will help him win the war (a familiar premise for any fan of Indiana Jones). This time, the artifact Hitler desires is an Egyptian ossuary that supposedly contains the bones of St. Anthony the Great, the father of monasticism who defied the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. 

The story’s hero, Princeton professor Lucas Athan, discovers the ossuary among a horde of stolen art looted by Rommel from the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. The military wants Lucas to open the ossuary and study its contents, but before he can, he encounters a beautiful Egyptian woman named Simone Rashid. She and her father were the archaeologists who originally discovered the ossuary in the Sahara, and the two of them followed its transport to Princeton. Simone warns Lucas that if he opens the ossuary without her, he’d live to regret it. You see, wherever the ossuary has been, terrible things have happened.

The torment of St. Anthony by Michelangelo
Masello does a masterful job of building up the mystery surrounding the ossuary. Through ancient writings belonging to Simone’s father, he reveals that, in legend, Saint Anthony battled demons, and it soon becomes apparent that something much more than the saint’s bones might be locked inside the sarcophagus. Once it is opened, the suspense hits high gear. The book takes on a darker tone and reads, at times, like a good horror novel and great supernatural thriller.

Woven into this suspense-filled storyline is the character of Albert Einstein, also a professor at Princeton and Lucas’ next-door neighbor. Einstein is secretly helping Robert Oppenheimer and the U.S. military develop the atom bomb before the Nazi’s can, much to Einstein’s regret since he knows the horrors such a weapon will unleash on the world. Masello portrays Einstein perfectly as a wise and whimsical soul, a quirky genius the reader cannot help but like. But it turns out his work is of interest to more than just the Allies and the Nazis, for a far more ancient power has designs on the bomb too, which makes Einstein its number one target.

The book was hard to put down and kept me turning the pages until its thrilling (though mildly predictable) ending. The ride, however, was so enjoyable, and the writing was so well done, that I’d rate The Einstein Prophecy as my favorite book so far in 2015. I highly recommend it!


Bill said...

You've sold me, Joe.

My mother once heard Einstein speak at her college and was always proud of that.

Joseph Finley said...

Bill - I can't believe I never responded to this, but I guess I was still "recovering" from my European vacation at the time. That is a great story about your mother. I can imagine why she was proud about that!