Editorial Review: Blood Symbols by Izak Botha
A young priest is murdered in the Vatican, a researcher sneaks into the archives to see a heretical document, and there’s a suicide bomber at the Pieta. Is there a connection? The Swiss guard, charged with protecting the lives, secrets, and treasures in the Vatican, certainly thinks so.
Jennifer Jaine, a doctorate dropout, talks her way into a Vatican archive, determined to either confirm or negate her faith with a look at ancient documents. Her goal is mostly personal, but she’s soon caught up in the chaos. Simon, who seems to be escaping Vatican City after a murder, a theft, or both, pulls her out of the path of law enforcement, onto a much more convoluted one. Although she’s left her PhD program, Jennifer’s natural curiosity gets the better of her and she can’t help pursuing the strange historical clues they find. This leads them through Rome and to ancient sites in Turkey, where they reconnect with Professor Uri Rabin, an Israeli expert on religious archaeology. It is this human curiosity that propels so much of the story, as the explorers discover historical evidence to prove or disprove Biblical tradition.
Fans of The Da Vinci Code or Indiana Jones will enjoy this fast-paced adventure story. Secrets, lies, and all kinds of ancient artifacts are hidden in the Vatican, with ancient orders and modern investigators all interested in controlling the truth. Competing factions and agendas create suspense, although the overall conflict comes down to the history of faith. (If our heroes can stay alive long enough to investigate and tell the world, that is.)
Although this is a thriller, the overarching connection is really individuals questioning their faith. This creates a clear motivation for our protagonists and a compelling basis for their relationships and choices. Readers see Jennifer pulled completely out of her daily life, but her deep curiosity makes her believable and sympathetic. Simon’s choices, too, come from family loyalty and a deep desire for the truth, which also makes him relatable and engaging. Professor Rabin is an academic, but he’s also a dedicated, intelligent seeker of truth.
The book is a fast-paced adventure with engaging, complex protagonists, but, at times, the twists lacked suspense and awe. Blood Symbols is similar enough to The Da Vinci Code that certain discoveries feel less like shocking revelations and more like the next step on Dan Brown’s path. Occasionally, key artifacts are discovered in improbably good condition. At these moments, concern for the characters and enjoyment of the vibrant settings continue to move the book along. Whether it’s a car chase on busy Roman streets, a Turkish cafe, a secret room in Vatican City, or an earthquake in an ancient religious site, the settings are always described in full, lively detail.
Blood Symbols takes readers on a thrilling ride from the secret archives and passages of Vatican City, to the archaeological excavations of early church sites in Turkey, with beautifully vivid descriptions of exotic places. Readers will enjoy following these truth seekers on their adventures.