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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and exciting. Just as good as The Eight.
The Magic Circle is a fascinating and entertaining book. I think readers should give it a chance. Ms. Neville has already written The Eight, this is a different book and the constant comparisons of the two really annoy me. Give her a break! If she rewrote The Eight, people would be complaining about that too. The Magic Circle a different book and is every bit as good...
Published on 17 April 1998

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Highly disappointing compared to The Eight
I was a big fan of The Eight, so I ordered The Magic Circle as soon as I saw it. I wish I hadn't. Unlike her last novel, A Calculated Risk, which was set in the world of high finance, this book goes back to the style of the Eight. Historical accounts from various periods are interspersed with the modern day trials and tribulations of Ariel, the protaganist...
Published on 2 Mar 1998


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Highly disappointing compared to The Eight, 2 Mar 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Magic Circle (Hardcover)
I was a big fan of The Eight, so I ordered The Magic Circle as soon as I saw it. I wish I hadn't. Unlike her last novel, A Calculated Risk, which was set in the world of high finance, this book goes back to the style of the Eight. Historical accounts from various periods are interspersed with the modern day trials and tribulations of Ariel, the protaganist.
Unlike Cat, the main character from The Eight, I found Ariel a frustrating character to root for, as she was constantly doing things that made no sense to me, and shouldn't have to her either. After a while, I wanted to knock on her head and ask if anyone was home. Her family is worse. It's endlessly evolving as revelations of incest and falsified parenthood are dropped on her one after another. After a while it was pointless to even try and keep track.
Unfortunately, the weaving of myriad threads from different periods of history that the author accomplished so well in The Eight seems badly strained here, and it seems that no city they visit can even be named without a two page digression into the history of the town and how it's name mystically ties in with the hidden knowledge of the ancients. After a while, it just gets repetitive, and I kept waiting for something important to finally take place. And despite implications of artifacts of great power from ealier ages, and the sweeping changes that are to accompany the turning aeons, nothing really happens. Honestly, if you're new to this author, and this book sounds interesting to you, I'd go back and read The Eight instead.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and exciting. Just as good as The Eight., 17 April 1998
By A Customer
The Magic Circle is a fascinating and entertaining book. I think readers should give it a chance. Ms. Neville has already written The Eight, this is a different book and the constant comparisons of the two really annoy me. Give her a break! If she rewrote The Eight, people would be complaining about that too. The Magic Circle a different book and is every bit as good as The Eight. As with her other two books, Magic Circle borrows from historical facts to make her story come alive as a fascinating and informative piece. She masterfully weaves her fiction and fact together to make her fiction believable, and her facts more understandable and interesting by giving a human feel to them. Reading it made me interested in the subjects she touches on, and so I read other books and actually learned something from them. Maybe that's the problem with the bad reviews this book is getting. Maybe people are afraid to actually learn from reading novels. Ms. Neville, according to her biography enteries, has an intimate knowledge of what her main characters do, and adds to her knowledge by tireless research. I found that when the book talked about the telluric currents and the power grids of the earth, I would study maps and review history to see what else happened in these places. When she talked of Song of Solomon, I dug out a bible and read Song of Solomon because her book made it interesting. I found and read a book called Spear of Destiny that talked about the spear that Hitler was obsessed with, because Magic Circle made me wonder about it. For me, The Magic Circle was exciting and informative. I strongly suggest anyone who read and liked either of her other works to pick up this one too. Give it a chance and I don't think you'll regret it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A CHANGE OF HEART, 4 July 1999
By A Customer
When this book first came out, I wrote one of the very first reviews of it (This is a brilliant book, but is it a good book? Feb 22, 1998.) I have received many letters, both from Neville's devoted fans as well as comments from my own colleagues about those initial thoughts I jotted down.
As an historian, as a lover of mysteries, and a devoted fan myself of Katherine Neville, I decided to take a good hard look at the review I wrote so long ago. In retrospect, I realize my review was neither fair nor completely accurate, and that it may have led to a great deal of misunderstanding on the part of other readers. I must admit that today it seems more of a gut level reaction to a book that, on first reading, had disturbed me deeply. But when I confronted those feelings, and especially when I realized that there were many readers, with perhaps less depth of sincere feeling than my own, who seem to have jumped on the bandwagon of something I wrote, in haste, so long ago, I thought I should be enough of a man to admit I might have made a serious error in judgment. I would therefore like to correct the impression I may have given to others.
The real error of my review which I would like to address is when I accused Neville of setting herself up as a "self-proclaimed expert on the Bible, Torah, Greek history, Roman history, Ancient Civilization, the Gauls, the Celts, nuclear science, the beliefs and rituals of Native Americans," etc
This statement of mine has caused a lot of controversy because I then proceeded (or so I am told) to launch into a diatribe that made it sound as if I was presenting MYSELF as an expert in all those fields, and therefore in a position to judge her in each and every one of them. Nothing could have been further from my intention. Indeed, I have subsequently learned that Neville actually IS an expert in some of these things, and in others she really did her homework in a manner that would befit even the finest writers of historical fiction. For instance, I was mistaken in thinking she had never been in Russia, Vienna, or Paris, but had merely collated her descriptions from books. I learned that she has lived in all these places and that her descriptions were based on her experiences, just as with all those descriptions I loved so much that I AM acquainted with myself, like those of Marin, Sun Valley, the Snake River, and the Kootenai Wilderness.
I also accused Neville of taking a "series of rumors, uncertainties, and guesses" and turning them into fact. As her readers have, quite rightly, objected to me, her book is presented as a work of fiction, not of history, so of course, she has a perfect right to make any such changes as she sees fit. That doesn't necessarily signify, however, that she has taken such liberties, and I was wrong to suggest, without any specific evidence, that she ever has.
The real eye-opener for me, was when several of my own colleagues who are grounded in the classics pointed out the incredible variety and richness of her actual historical sources, and what a creative mind it took to pull these all together. They aren't sure anyone has ever accomplished this before in a work of fiction. For instance, in her sections on the Roman emperors alone, Neville has utilized more than fifty historical sources they were able to pinpoint just off the top of their heads, such as Plutarch, Nonnos, Arrian, Tacitus, Suetonius, Diodorus Siculus - to name but a few - not to mention the ancient fiction writers she pays tribute to, like Euripides and Virgil. A female colleague of mine has also told me how impressed she was that Neville's section on the druids and Boadicea were partly drawn from Antonia Fraser's powerful book, The Warrior Queens (well worth a read for those unacquainted with Celtic history!)
I must say that I am at a loss to explain why this particular book of Neville's so seriously troubled me - even DISTURBED me - on my first reading. Perhaps it was simply a knee-jerk reaction to what seemed to me a feminist stance on her part, toward the end of the book. After all, those of us who love the wilderness do understand the importance of protecting our natural environment, our rivers and lakes and streams. I have read the book three times since, and each time I saw another, deeper, layer that led me closer to the meaning the author was trying to convey, which is the interconnectedness of all things. I especially have grown to appreciate the relationship between Ariel and Sam, portrayed so lovingly and beautifully at the book's end, that reveals our interconnectedness.
So I hope that those readers who blindly followed my rather scathing first review will forgive me for having misguided them. And I sincerely hope that Katherine Neville, who still remains one of my favorite authors, will accept my deep and heartfelt apologies for any pain I may have caused her by a hasty, perhaps overly superficial, initial critique of her book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A unique message is not easy to hear...., 25 May 1999
By A Customer
As a physician who uses diagnostic methods considered unorthodox by many of my colleagues, I am very familiar with the plight of Ms. Neville, as so very well described by Dr. Pribram in an earlier review.
I would like to share what I think is particularly valuable about this book, as I think a key point is escaping the notice of the many readers who are taking all the family connections and references to new-age mysteries so seriously.
In our era, we are always looking for solutions outside of our "self." Most of my patients want magic bullet pills to cure everything so they can continue to lead alarming and debilitating life styles.
I think Ms. Neville has achieved something special in writing a rich, sprawling allegory about the search for "self", and what better genre than a mystery/international thriller? The problem is not confined to one gender, race, or nation. It has become universal.
Everyone looks for something they can steal or buy to make them whole. Some people think it might be a kind of lost inheritance. Others think it might consist of magical articles or manuscripts buried by mysterious people at the beginning of history.
While we pursue these frantic searches and treasure hunts, we ignore the basic truth of time and space, which is in our own bodies. We wake up and go back to sleep with the greatest of mysteries, the human body, which we take for granted while we cast real wealth aside, looking for fool's gold.
Katherine Neville has spent years, obviously, crafting a story with great care, deep thought, able art, admirable scholarship. What is she trying to tell us? It is a secret that can be given away without spoiling the story: the "power points" of legend, the spears and tables and powers of the ancients, are all reborn with each of us when we leave our mother's womb. If we ignore that basic truth, all the other wisdom and secret lore is wasted on us.
That is what the other reviewers of Neville's book seem to miss. She has restored mystery to its proper place, which is the space between the knees and the skull where true creativity, true treasure, can be found. The ancient symbol of skull and crossbones marks the the treasure.
But it is your skull, and your own thigh bones, that are the markers, and your own wisdom gained through sacrafice and devotion, that is the treasure. It is that simple, that elusive, and Neville is profligate with her talent in teasing it out of a richly patterned narrative.
It doesn't take a genius to enjoy the fantastic trip. Just an open mind, and a love of "good stories, well told...."
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5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding person or product tends to polarize opinion., 7 May 1999
By A Customer
The Magic Circle is an outstanding novel. I mean outstanding literally: It stands out from the mundane. Some years ago, a study at Harvard showed that as people or their actions become more and more outstanding, evaluations tend to become more and more polarized. Mediocre accomplishments receive midscale ratings; those at the pinacle attract progressively more widely separate views.
The main contemporary characters in The Magic Circle can become a reader's friends; the main historical characters ask us to sympathize with their problems or shock us with cruelty. The plot and subplots move along at such a rapid pace that re-reading uncovers added richness.
These valuation are shared by many of the reviewers. But there is another contingent that finds The Magic Circle "boring." The term immediately suggests the mundane, "I've read it all before," or just poor workmanship that puts one to sleep.
But there is another cause for boredom. Yawning ordinarily indicates sleepiness and thus boredom in the usual sense. In non-human primates, however, yawning occurs when the animal is threatened. The yawning response is an attenuated "baring of teeth" -- an indication of a potential for counterattack -- which, because of the strength of the threat, is being suppressed. I've seen this response in humans at lectures repeatedly: "I'm bored with this" often means that I'm threatened by the difficulties of the presentation, or actually by its content which challenges very basic belief systems.
The Magic Circle describes Jesus as a zealot, sometimes somewhat in a trance state. Caligula, the self-declared "god," is a childish human. Hitler, the devil of our century, comes off as severely misguided but human. Our own sanctity and immunity from engaging in atrocities is challenged by Zoe. Boring? Damn right. It's all superficial and certainly not true of me or my cherished black versus white values.
The Magic Circle is outstanding as indicated by the polarization of opinion. I've suggested one possible reason for the highly polarized negative opinions that are at such variance with those that indicated thorough enjoyment of the book
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1.0 out of 5 stars First Neville Book I read...Last Neville Book I will read, 25 Mar 1999
By A Customer
The only two redeeming qualities of this book I could find were: 1) She did her homework (you have to admire that) and the historical parts are interesting and motivate the reader to investigate some of these events more thoroughly. 2) I enjoyed the central theme of Ms. Behn's search for her family and the involvement with an outwardly wonderful man who is rotten at the core.
But.... I was really bothered the way she seemed to refer to myths as history. I kept feeling like Neville was watching over my shoulder expecting an "Aha!" when she would tell the story from an ancient myth as though it were actual history and wasn't just a story told by another author thousands of years ago. Explaining how one Goddess was popped out of Zeus' forehead and her brother was incubated in his thigh is interesting, but can you really use it as proof of something the way you can Hitler's thirst for genocide? One event actually impacted the world population in a tangible way. The other is entertainment.
I also felt that her recounting of the historical events were too verbose, almost as though her creative writing teacher had told her to write a paper and it had to be 552 pages long, so she filled in the historical parts (which don't always have anything to do with the final punchline of the story!) just to make a long book. I paid 7.99 and felt I got a 2.99 book. The other thing I didn't like was that she embellished some of the history of the biblical figures to make a point that supported her story. It made me feel like the author I was dealing with was a sleezy TV evangelist, which, unfortunately, also colors my overall impression of the book. Last, but not least, she goes through 551 pages of major work developing this story and then the ending is "Oh, by the way, take care of mother earth, that the magic of the new millenium". Well, excuse me, but wasn't that what the 70s were about? And why just drop the story all of a sudden, couldn't she have spent 25 pages or so on "beautifying the end of the story" or at least pulling it together. I missed the point of why I had just finished reading hundreds of pages about the holy grail and 12 other "power pieces" and the 13 hot spots on the planet, only to be told "Don't mess with mother nature" in the end. One doesn't really seem to have too much to do with the other as far as I can see, especially, because as far as I know, those 13 pieces are still myth.
I am glad there is someone out there who likes her writing, as she should be able to work with her "art" and have it received well. I know it is a lot of work so she should have some success. But, I won't be one of those people in the future.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An exciting and through-provoking adventure., 2 July 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Magic Circle (Hardcover)
Katherine Neville's first novel, The Eight, was an international bestseller, a two-tiered story that mixed chess, the French Revolution, the oil embargo of the 1970s, and romance on the Mediterranean Sea. I couldn't put it down for days. Her second novel, A Calculated Risk, was a New York Times Notable Book. It was an engaging and fun romp through the world of banking and high finance and opera. Neville has become one of my favorite writers.
The Magic Circle, her third novel, is Neville's most ambitious book yet. It is a story about the big picture and transformation; it is the story of an aeon -- a 2,000 year cycle -- that began at the rise of the Roman Empire and the birth of Christianity and that is approaching its completion right now. This book is about humankind's quest to harness the power of the earth and heavens for such a transformation.
The heroine of The Magic Circle is Ariel Behn who calls herself a "girl nuke," and works as a nuclear security expert in Idaho. When we first meet her she is driving in treacherous snow conditions on her way back to Idaho from San Francisco where she left her brother's shrouded remains in a casket, blown apart by some unknown bomb while operating in an advisory capacity for the military. His death is as sudden as his disappearance from her life some years ago.
Ariel soon learns that she's been bequeathed with precious family papers that her brother, Sam, had inherited from their grandmother. Why she has been given these documents and why everyone in her family wants them before she can uncover what they are is what Ariel must find out. But this wouldn't be a Katherine Neville novel without huge amounts of history and scien! ce, puzzles and etymology thrown in. As Ariel pursues the meaning of the manuscripts she uncovers the hard truths about her complex family and their role in major twentieth century events such as the Boer Wars in South Africa and World War II.
Like Scheherazade, the story teller in One Thousand and One Nights, Neville weaves tales within tales, only this time they go backwards into history as we learn about ancient initiation and transformation rituals, runes, Uranus, power spots, who Jesus might have been, and what the Song of Solomon may actually mean.
Neville's historical segments are delicious and compelling. The reader becomes a local observer of, for example, the last week of Jesus's life, seeing the events from Pontius Pilate and Joseph of Arimathea's view.
The magic circle evokes a place to do ritual, to connect with our community, be it the neighborhood, our families, friends or the planet. It is for each of us to enter into the magic circle and transform. This book provokes questions and imaginings, and rereading. Neville delivers another tour de force, and leaves us wanting more.
Writer and editor Beth Dora Reisberg writes book reviews and interviews of thinkers and writers on the leading edge. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Too Much, 5 May 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Magic Circle (Hardcover)
I normally enjoy the work of an author who is able to reinterpret established facts of history and combine it with intrigue, suspense and drama into the one novel. Based purely on the strength of the synopsis on the back cover this is what I expected with the Magic Circle, however I was very disappointed.
The Magic Circle offers much but delivers little. I was expecting a novel which would keep me riveted page to page, however I found myself at times struggling to comprehend the complex web of characters not only in the Roman and bibilical periods of the novel but the present day charcters of the Behn family. I have to agree with the reader who tired of hearing of a new shocking family secret every time Ariel spoke with a new family member. This aspect of the novel was badly overdone. At one stage I looked in the back of the book to see if the author had included a family tree diagram to aid the reader in trying to comprehend the intricate relationships of the Behn family.
Whilst reading I was looking forward to finishing the book to uncover " the chilling truth of the ne millenium", to me this never happened, I felt as though there was something missing. Maybe I was looking forward to an ending like the ones I encountered in The Day After Tomorrow or The Genesis Code.
Reading this at times I felt I was in a history lesson, lots of names and lots of dates. Don't get me wrong the authors research for this novel is second to none. I haven't yet encountered a novel which covers so many historical events and characters from so many different time periods. Neville's shortcoming is that she has overloaded the reader with this information, combine this with the complex Behn family and you have a novel which is simply too long and has too much information.
Putting those critcisms aside, Neville has a wonderful descriptive writing style, places such as Vienna come right off the page. Her main characters come alive, rescuing the book from below average status.
In summary the book i! s still worth a read but be prepared to take notes.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting to a point, but..., 23 April 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Magic Circle (Hardcover)
It just is not The Eight. Maybe it is an unfair comparison, but I got the impression that Ms. Neville was aiming for the same audience. Anyway, I found that the book was overwhelming in the amount of information it wanted me to swallow, and after a while following the Behn family tree was confusing, with a new revelation everytime Ariel spoke with someone. And after reading through all that I expected the ending to give me more explanation, more specifics and I got neither. I read through the book for that ending? The book is well written and has a nice pace to it, but it feels like the author was overreaching. Then there is one point I think needs to be made. Who exactly did Ms. Neville try to tell me was Jesus of Nazareth? I think perhaps Ms Neville should never have involved Jesus in the plot of the book. It does not make sense to me. I was surprised that the full picture of Jesus is not presented to the reader, for example, the resurrected Jesus was seen by not only Mary Magdalene, but (according to Scripture) 500 persons. And I found it hard to believe that Joseph of Arimathea lived with the druids and condoned their rituals to the point of volunteering for a human sacrifice! ( did the author get ideas from Alexandra Ripley's A love Divine?). I am afraid the book gives a very untrue portrayal of early Christians ( specially unflattering to Saint Paul) and it would be confusing to non Christians. Again, the book makes for an interesting read, but the end result was not satisfying. With that said, I will most likely read Ms neville's next book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Reader unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy., 3 Mar 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Magic Circle (Hardcover)
I read the above review by thewest@earthnet and with his/her encouragement feel relieved to review Katherine Neville's book 'The Magic Circle' despite the amazing blaze of feelings the read has conjured. I admit to having pretty much the same impression as 'thewest'. I was stunned (at first) by the amount of information this author was pulling together from such varied sources. As I neared page 500, I realized that no matter how complicated the intertwinings of the narrator's family relations (Ugh, in my opinion-was all that incest meant to be farcical?) were, the author was never, never, never going to pull the whole thing together in time to satisfy all the questions her 'sitings' had churned up. I thought her ending where Sam and Ariel (two cousins-isn't that supposedly illegal?) discuss their revelations regarding the mysterious rune manuscripts was utter balderdash. As a woman, I was disturbed and insulted that Neville thinks the secret to life's mysteries lies in a simple 'positioning'. In 'Thenet's words, 'Give me a break!' I just assumed Neville didn't really have an ending to the story or after 500 pages her editor told her to cut the chaff-the book really should have gone on for another 500 pages to fully satisfy the reader. Are we to assume that Jesus and Miriam, his only true initiate, had assumed the proper positions and hence Miriam's mystical understanding? The conclusion of the book is an example of Occam's razor in its worst application. Trite BS. I am not a historian and I don't claim to know anything about what I read about in 'The Magic Circle'. However, one good thing came from this read, I was very much taken with my own lack of knowledge regarding other cultures, but I am not sure that the things that interested me in the book are based on fact and that scares me. People reading this book will automatically assume that what they read is some semblance of reality. But which is true and which is fiction? Neville should have at least had an afterward explaining where she got her valid material. I suppose that since one did not exist, the entire book was based on fantasy and was an attempt to recaptivate her 'The Eight'audience. Can any historians tell me which parts of the story were based on fact? I've read Marion Zimmer Bradley's series on Avalon and Pauline Gedge's saga which touch on the same time period-the Roman annihilation of the druid's isle
of Mona. I feel that it was handled in these books in a more factual way, but now, I am perplexed wondering what I should believe. Yes, fiction is fiction, but even historians infer things by certain events. Historical fiction always seemed to have tha ability to bring a dryer read to life. (A silly but honest statement that doesn't speak much for my education!.
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The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville (Hardcover - Mar 1998)
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