Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review of Robert Masello’s The Medusa Amulet

In a bit of a departure from my usual reading habits, today I’m reviewing Robert Masello’s The Medusa Amulet. Before this post, all of the books I’ve reviewed were books that I purchased myself, but I was sent an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of this novel by the publisher through the First Reads program, which was exciting. Free books – woo hoo! You can sign up for book giveaways on the Goodreads webpage, but so far The Medusa Amulet is the only book I’ve been sent. The FTC (and ethics!) requires that I tell you up front when I’ve been given something for free in the expectation of a review, so consider yourself informed. Unless I tell you otherwise, though, you can assume that I’ve bought or borrowed a book I’m reviewing.

I enjoyed this book, even though thrillers aren't my preferred genre, which, as you know, is romance. My preferences in reading could have prejudiced my reading of the novel somewhat, so keep that in mind. The premise behind this thriller/paranormal is that a Renaissance artist, Benvenuto Cellini, traveled to the underworld and used objects he found to create an amulet with a mirror on the back. This mirror supposedly has mythical properties, and there is some doubt over whether or not the Medusa Amulet even exists. The novel jumps between the historical Cellini’s story and that of present day historian David Franco. Franco works for the Newberry Library in Chicago and is tasked with recovering the Medusa Amulet by a wealthy benefactor, Kathryn Van Owen. David’s sister, Sarah, has terminal cancer, and the mysterious Mrs. Van Owen promises him that if he recovers the Medusa Amulet, his sister can be cured.  David then begins his race against time, unsure if he even believes in the restorative powers of the mythical Medusa Amulet.

While the beginning was a bit slow, the pace of the novel quickly picked up. I found the historical and international settings of Florence, Rome, and Paris truly fascinating, and I appreciated the author's descriptions of archival research since I, too, am an academic. However, I enjoyed the historical couple of Benvenuto Cellini and his lover Caterina much more than the current day protagonists of David Franco and his love interest Olivia Levi. I liked David's race against time to find the Medusa Amulet in the hope that it will save his sister from terminal cancer, but I found his character to be otherwise uninteresting and, quite frankly, unrealistic. He has his PhD and a plummy position at the Newberry Library at 31? BWAHAHAHA!!! Yeah, right! And Olivia is quirky. And SMART! She can do archival research! Other than that, we know very little about her, and the romance between her and David is lacking in sparks. Then the Nazis made an appearance. So the plot was a bit far-fetched and the romance lacking for my taste.

I found myself looking forward to the historical/flashback sections more than the contemporary ones, which is a bit odd, since David Franco is supposedly the hero. The ending, however, was fast paced and action-packed. I think if you enjoyed Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, you'll probably enjoy this as well. I'm not sure if I'll read any of Masello's other novels, but as I stated previously, I suspect that's more because of my personal preferences in reading, rather than the content of the novel.

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