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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Thrills and messes with your mind in equal measure"
Review

I was really not sure what to expect with Orpheus Descent, I have to admit to owning all of Tom Harpers Books and reading none (until now). They languish in my mountainous TBR (to be read) pile.

So this was always going to be a new experience of style and plot. That said I'm a big fan of well written time-slip books, the interplay of differing...
Published on 31 May 2013 by Parm

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Feelings
To be honest, as I say in my title, I have mixed feelings about this book. In some ways it is a good book with a good storyline. In other ways I found it to be slow going and not absorbing. There are essentially two stories in this book and I struggled to see how these came together. I was still wrestling with this question at the end of the book. The modern day storyline...
Published 17 months ago by Wendy Jones


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Thrills and messes with your mind in equal measure", 31 May 2013
By 
Parm (A bookshop near you) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Hardcover)
Review

I was really not sure what to expect with Orpheus Descent, I have to admit to owning all of Tom Harpers Books and reading none (until now). They languish in my mountainous TBR (to be read) pile.

So this was always going to be a new experience of style and plot. That said I'm a big fan of well written time-slip books, the interplay of differing era's, attitudes and people if done right can be fantastic.

Add to the above my love of ancient Greece, thrillers and the glowing praise filtering through on Twitter, what choice did I have but to make Orpheus Descent my first Tom Harper read.

Firstly I need to add that I did read the short story "Twelfth Tablet" (The Twelfth Tablet - ebook) that acts as a teaser for this book. For anyone not sure of Tom Harpers writing, go read this, it had me hooked from page one. It is however a teaser for the modern era side of the time-slip tale only but gives a great insight into Greek tycoon who acts as principle antagonist in both stories.

The main thrust of the plot follows the two distinct and yet gradually blurring timelines. In modern Greece Lilly an archaeologist goes missing, her husband who has utter faith in his relationship and wife knows she has not run out on him and sets out to find her, battling inner demons and the voices of family and friends who all tell him that she has just left him, he knows something isn't right, and he will stop at nothing to find her again.

In the alternate plot-line Plato leaves Greece for Italy, to search for his friend Agathon. That simple voyage turns into a life and death series of mishaps, misfortune, and calamity that tests the great philosopher's will, beliefs and view of the world, making him challenge all he holds dear, his vision of the world and his place in it.

I think there will be some who struggle with Plato's side of this story, it does get very involved in the differences of philosophical types, eg: sophistry and Plato's view of it. It covers many myths and the thinking of the classical man. But while for me this slowed the pace of the plot, it also gave it a very very different edge and a much greater depth. It made me think which isn't the norm for treasure hunter/ thriller plot. I used (online) the description that the book "Thrills and messes with your mind in equal measure", and it really did. The philosophical elements made you stop and contemplate what was meant, what was hidden, what was the meaning behind it. Writing this review is making me stop and re-examine some of the points of the book and its meaning all over again. I think you could re-read the book and find something new every time. The story is very much a product of you the reader, at the time you read it, in the emotion that you read it in (as much as what was written by the author). As the readers position is a changeable position/ emotion so your view and enjoyment of the book I think will change, and what you take away from it... see ...it messed with my head!

So do I recommend it... Of course. Any book that you can read again and again is right up there on the go read it list. Just go in with an open and inquisitive mind.

(Parm)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling beyond all expectations, 27 May 2013
This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Hardcover)
I seem to have hit a dual-timeline streak in my reading. Of the past dozen or so books I've read, at least five had dual (or multiple) timelines. It's an interesting realisation, and while probably not indicative of a trend in publishing - dual-timelines have been around for ages - as a reader, it does give me a clearer view of what can go wrong or right when such a construction is used. Tom Harper's The Orpheus Descent is another dual-timeline book and one which does it very well, in my opinion. The two timelines are clearly linked, but not dependent on each other, however, the braiding of the two narratives enriches the story as a whole and gives it added depth.

The earlier timeline follows Plato, one of the most important philosophers in Western history. One of Socrates' disciples, he was hit hard by his teacher's execution by his beloved Athenian state and for years he's set adrift, as were many of Socrates' other pupils. This results in Plato taking ship for Italy after receiving a cryptic letter from one of his closest friends and one of Socrates' star pupils, Agathon. He sets out on a ship in the - rather unwanted - company of Euphemus, a sophist, someone who embodies everything Plato and Socrates before him disapproves of heartily. What follows is a long game of chase across the Greek colonies in Italy, one in which Plato never quite manages to catch up to Agathon, but does manage to piece together the mystery his friend has unearthed. It's a fascinating journey, not just in a physical sense, but also on a meta-physical level, as Harper manages to incorporate the seed questions to Plato's best-known teachings. As such, he makes a convincing case for how Plato's departure from his Socratic principles came about.

As the first-person narrator Plato is the character the reader becomes most closely connected to and he's a sympathetic and likeable character. Given to deep contemplation, he is a surprisingly action-driven character, who doesn't hesitate to act in any given situation. The more pragmatic and opportunistic Euphemus starts out as an unlikeable sod, but gradually becomes more sympathetic as Plato's perceptions of him and his ideas change. A more mysterious character whose motives remain somewhat obscured is Diotema. She possesses almost supernatural powers and while ostensibly she champions a good cause, I never came to trust her, even if Plato did. Plato's storyline ends where it began, in the Piraeus, the Athenian harbour, but the Plato who returns is a completely different person from the one who left, having learnt of mysteries beyond the ken of his contemporaries and going on to teach what he'd learnt in one of the greatest schools Athens would ever know.

The other timeline is contemporary and focuses on the story of Jonah, a musician who goes looking for his missing wife. Lily has discovered the same golden tablet as Agathon had and seemingly as a result has vanished. Foul play or not, Jonah is determined to find Lily, if only to get some answers, but in truth because he can't imagine living without the love of his life. Jonah was immediately sympathetic, you can't help but like him in his bewildered, grief-stricken state and tenacious faith in Lily. His story is a real thriller, including a secretive foundation, a cabal of Oxford friends, and a mysterious voice on the phone offering him help. The mystery surrounding Lily's disappearance is tangled, but Harper teases out the knots without leading the reader by the nose.

Jonah is surrounded by frustrating characters: Lily's Oxford friends who seem to be hiding things left, right, and centre. None of them came off as very likeable, except for Julian, as you'd expect more of a sympathetic reaction to Jonah's plight instead of the rather callous brushing off he receives, telling him to let it go, because Lily has simply left him. Similarly, Lily's mother and sister are as easily dismissive of Jonah, despite not having spoken to Lily themselves. In fact, other than Jonah, Lily, and Jonah's unexpected ally, Ren, the contemporary timeline is rather devoid of sympathetic characters. In essence, this serves to emphasize Jonah's increasing isolation as he searches for Lily.

The contemporary timeline has more immediacy to it, which is logical due to its thriller-nature. However, even if Plato's timeline is of a more historical bent, it is still an exciting read, and no less enthralling than its companion. In The Orpheus Descent, Harper blends historical fiction and thriller elements with classical Greek mythology, which ends in a gripping denouement in which the mystery of both timelines is revealed in a sequence that sucked me in and wouldn't let go for the last four chapters of the book. While one of the books on my Anticipated Books List for the first half of the year, this book exceeded all my expectations and while this is the first book I've read by Tom Harper, I definitely hope it isn't my last. With The Orpheus Descent, Harper has firmly placed himself on my must-read list.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original and superb mix of mystery, mythology and adventure, 23 May 2013
By 
Kate (Oxford, Oxon United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Hardcover)
When archaeologist Lily disappears from the excavated remains of an ancient drowned city in southern Italy, we embark on a journey that will astonish us. Refusing to believe claims of friends and family, and police, that Lily has become another of those wives or husbands who simply decides one day to vanish, her husband Jonah, a musician, begins his own investigation, insisting that the disappearance from the dig of a small gold tablet must be related and even worrying that Lily's archaeological friends, his own friends, too, may know more than they say. Jonah sets of on a journey across Italy and Greece, following the clues, archaeological and otherwise, to find his wife. He is on a quest but he's not the first.

The Orpheus Descent is a novel that tells two stories. In parallel to Jonah and Lily's story is that of Plato. In the years following Socrates' murder or assassination, Plato's writings underwent a significant change as his philosophical view of life, love, beauty and virtue shifted. Tom Harper here gives us one possible reason for this. Plato is also on a quest. He is hunting for his friend Agathon or, more particularly, a book that Agathon was prepared to pay an enormous amount of money for but, as far as Plato can tell, he disappeared in the act of buying it. Wars between Greek and Italian cities makes this a dangerous time to travel but Plato is determined to find his friend and his book. Accompanying him through shipwreck and capture is philosopher Euphemus, a Sophist with an entirely different interpretation of goodness to Plato. Both philosophies will be tested. But as the hunt continues, following the clues left by people he encounters as well as his own gold tablet, the possibility arises that Plato is also not the first to follow this path.

The two stories entwine like fibres of gold through The Orpheus Descent. As the novel progresses the strands knit closer but for much of the time they are linked by things wonderfully described and evoked - landscape, mythology, love, religion, desire, philosophy, jealousy, virtue. The Orpheus Descent is a superb reworking of some of the most familiar and beautiful myths of ancient Greece - Orpheus' hunt for Eurydice in the Underworld among others. The landscapes of ancient and newer Greece and Italy, as well as the mythological landscape, are brought alive by the journeys of Jonah and Plato and the parallels between their two stories are awash with similarities and echoes.

The Orpheus Descent fascinates and entertains in lots of different ways. It is very successful as an adventure and thriller and, in the Plato half, also works well as a historical novel. But the two stories together, both of which I enjoyed equally, with all of the clever parallels and links with myths and quests, makes the novel utterly enchanting and brain testing in the best of ways. I think a basic knowledge of Greek mythology would enrich a reader's enjoyment but it certainly isn't necessary. This novel is genre-defying and the richer for it. I can't recommend it enough.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Page turning time slip novel that mixes philosophy with adventures, 17 Sept. 2013
By 
EllyBlue (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Hardcover)
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I am a fan of time slip novels and this one, set partly in the present and partly in the Ancient Greece of Plato seemed like an interesting example of the genre. In the present, we have a missing archaeologist Lily who had discovered a strange gold tablet. Her husband Jonah is determined to find her but seems to have set himself an impossible task. Two and a half thousand years earlier, Plato has left Athens after the execution of Socrates in search of his friend Agathon. Of course, the gold tablet is the link between the two time periods, and what follows is partly philosophical musing, part historical and part archaeological thriller. You might find parts of this a bit ponderous, but the ideas explored are interesting and overall the plot drives the narrative along well enough. This is an unusual book, but one that is definitely worth looking at if you enjoy novels set in more than one time period.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Feelings, 9 Feb. 2014
By 
Wendy Jones "wjones7423" (Dundee, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Hardcover)
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To be honest, as I say in my title, I have mixed feelings about this book. In some ways it is a good book with a good storyline. In other ways I found it to be slow going and not absorbing. There are essentially two stories in this book and I struggled to see how these came together. I was still wrestling with this question at the end of the book. The modern day storyline started off well but towards the end I thought it deteriorated. The ancient storyline was too philosophical for my liking. I wanted to like this book and I read it to the end but it is not one I would readily recommend.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Philosophic Thoughts on a Thriller, 6 Mar. 2014
This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Paperback)
The second book I’ve chosen to review for this month is THE ORPHEUS DESCENT by Tom Harper. The reason I’ve chosen it is fairly simple – Tom and I are fellow members of York Authors and we’re putting on a joint event at York Literature Festival in a couple of weeks time so I thought it might be a good idea to read his book before I went. I’m glad I did as it’s re-ignited my interest in philosophy, an area I’ve often meant to pursue.

Tom has obviously studied it in great depth and his knowledge of the subject shines through. Although don’t let that lure you into thinking this is a dry and dusty academic tome – far from it, it’s actually a fast-paced thriller set in two different eras, subtly combining past and present in what is commonly referred to as a ‘time-slip’ novel.

The premise is also quite simple. In the modern-day present, archaeologist Lily Barnes has unearthed a golden tablet. It’s one of a series, charting the route to the afterlife. The thing about this one is it actually specifies how to get there. Then she disappears, along with the tablet itself. Husband Jonah sets out to find her.

In the ancient past, philosopher Plato is on his way to Italy to find his friend Agathon. But Agathon has disappeared - and guess what? He seems to have found a golden tablet. Plato follows in his footsteps and becomes convinced that by doing so he can unlock the mysteries of the universe.

So the stage is set for these separate but related stories to intertwine. The problem for the author is how to drive the narrative forward to achieve a cohesive whole. The way he does it is by matching them stride for stride, so Jonah’s search for his wife is paced almost identically in parallel with Plato’s quest for wisdom. In the end (no spoiler alert needed, I assure you) we come to believe that these are much the same ie. love can be found in truth and truth can be found in love. Neither of these things can ever die - which is precisely the ‘immortality’ promised by the tablets. Our bodies may perish but our souls go marching on – or something like that. As I intimated earlier, I’m no philosopher so I hope I’ve got that right – I’ll check it out with Tom prior to our event.

The point is, you don’t need to be a philosopher to enjoy the book - THE ORPHEUS DESCENT stands as a good adventure story in its own right. I’m an engineer by training rather than an out and out scientist so I’ve always taken a practical view of the world rather than a purely theoretical one. That means that in the beginning I naturally sided with Jonah and his quest for his real wife instead of Plato and his search for an intangible idea. But as the book progressed I began to realise that of the two main protagonists, Plato is perhaps the more practical as he is prepared to compromise some of his principles in order to attain his objective. On the other hand, Jonah is blinded by love and will stop at nothing to get Lily back. For me, this makes Plato the more interesting character and although both men are ready to sacrifice their lives to get what they want, by the end of the book I found myself leaning toward the philosopher’s story rather than that of the husband.

Jonah’s tale is akin to a Dan Brown thriller. We’ve read these before but they keep us turning the pages. And it’s by turning the pages that we get to learn something of the philosophy of Plato. This has to be a win-win situation. I began by saying that you shouldn’t be lured into thinking this is a dry and dusty academic tome. What you should do is be lured into thinking – and go and read some philosophy. I know I will be and I have Tom Harper to thank for that. I look forward to working with him.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read..., 1 Dec. 2013
By 
Stella (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Hardcover)
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This was a great story AND I learned some stuff. I haven't read anything else by this author and I wasn't really sure what to expect with this, I had just heard that it was an ancient mystery thriller type story and had a Dan Brown feel to it so I was looking forward to it. I'll admit I wasn't immediately hooked and I was feeling a bit lukewarm towards it until I got three or four chapters in but from then on I could hardly put it down.

It's a dual timeline story and a lot of the time it felt like I was reading two separate tales but they were both great tales so it was win/win. One aspect I was a bit worried about was that one storyline was told from the point of view of Plato, and his part of the tale is filled with Greek God's and philosophers and in truth I thought a lot of it might go over my head as the closest I've come to anything remotely like that was the time I watched Disney's Hercules... My fears were unfounded though, Plato and his contemporaries were a joy to read about. Interesting, puzzling, fascinating...I loved all of it. When we first meet Plato he is setting off from Greece by ship to meet his friend in Italy who has asked him to bring funding for a special book he has found but can't afford. The rendezvous hits a setback from the very start and Plato's task is to try and find his friend and solve the mystery surrounding the book he wanted to buy.

Plato's modern counterpart in alternating chapters is Jonah, a band member who has recently come off tour and is keen to reunite with his archaeologist wife who he hasn't seen for the 6 weeks he's been off touring Europe. Like Plato his meeting doesn't go smoothly when his wife goes missing and as he tries to piece together the mystery that surrounds her disappearance we see the parallel's to Plato's story start to unfold.

The two stories are set more than 2000 years apart but by alternating chapters we see how closely they are intertwined and riddles posed in Jonah's chapters were usually answered in Plato's chapters and vice versa. It's very well done.

The only thing I wasn't keen on was the ending. The book held my interest right up to the conclusion but I found the ending unsatisfying. It just seemed a bit rushed and I just wasn't as enamored with it as I was the rest of the story.

All in all a great story though and I plan to read all the other author's works too.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Orpheus Descent, 7 Sept. 2013
By 
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Hardcover)
"I went down to the Piraeus yesterday with Glaucon, my brother. I told him not to waste his time, but he insisted."

In 389BC, Plato sets out from Athens in search of his friend Agathon, who leaves behind him a trail of mystery and enigmatic clues. In the current day, Lily Barnes, working at an archaeological dig in Italy has found something that other people would give a lot to get their hands on. And when Lily disappears, her husband Jonah must try to find her against a world of political and cultural turmoil in Greece, Italy and England. Just what is that Lily uncovered? And why is it so dangerous? And how can it be linked to the story of Plato, travelling from Greece to Italy and beyond so many hundreds of years ago?

This is a great story; personally I enjoyed the Platonic episodes more than the current day. The author clearly knows his philosophy, and the skilful blend of Plato, Socrates, Empedocles, Pythagoras and other philosophical tenets within the storyline is utterly engaging and totally seamless. The parts where he has conversations with his Inner Voice of Reason, Voice of Will and Voice of Desire are extremely funny and true. The current day story was great as it tied back to the Platonic story, but I found Jonah and the other characters a little hard to feel much empathy for; not particularly likeable, any of them.

A great adventure; a very cleverly woven tale of ancient and modern times, and a very skilful blend of ancient and modern action, people, humanity and inhaunity in its times. Great stuff; totally recommended. I look forward to reading more of the author's works.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible crossover of Classical Myth and modern adventure, 7 Aug. 2013
By 
ratscat13 "ratscat13" (North East Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Hardcover)
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I have to say I LOVED this book!

The blurb on the back tells us it's a tale of twelve gold tablets around the world, created by unknown hands, as maps to the afterlife. An archaeologist in Italy finds another and soon after vanishes....ho hum YET another jump on the bandwagon of Indiana Jones et al. Not at all this is a refreshing look at the genre.
There are plenty of archaeological adventure books out there but few that cross over the realms between Classical Mythology and the modern adventure novel quite as well as this.

The book is two parallel tales 2500 years apart. One the journey of Plato as he journeys to Italy, the second the modern tale of Lily (the archaeologist). The two follow similar paths for different reasons and end up in the same place with similar discoveries. Their journeys are very different but subtly the same.

Harper understands Classical Myth and philosophy to a high level and interweaves it well into the novel. You need no previous classics knowledge to follow the story but if you have it then it adds an extra dimension to the tale.

The characters are a mix or real historical people and fictitious adventurers and they work well together, the writing is very good and the descriptive passages are excellent. The story flows at a good pace and whilst it switches between the two tales the main thread of Lily and the gold tablet is the stronger story with Plato's journey filling in background information the reader may not otherwise possess.

The story weaves modern storytelling (for pleasure) and mythological tales (for teaching and morality) really well and there is a good subtext to the style. There is also a blending of reality and a dreamlike state that I found odd at first especially since it doesn't come in to well into the story. However it works really well to bring the stories together and provide a good climax.

This book works on so many levels, read it as a straightforward archaeological thriller, a reworking of myth, a historical study of Plato or a morality tale. It's great just don't think it will be easy!
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4.0 out of 5 stars A great read - not as deep as it wants to be, 24 July 2013
By 
Book Critic (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Orpheus Descent (Hardcover)
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Two parallel stories: Jonah's archaeologist wife is missing and so is a rare and valuable artefact. Did Lily steal it? Has she run away? Or has she been abducted by the rich and powerful sponsor of the dig? Meanwhile, back in 389 BC, Plato is travelling to Italy in search of a lost friend: it is a trip that will change his life forever.
It's a nice idea, not quite as nicely done as I'd hoped it would be. It feels as if it's constantly reaching for something bigger and better, but never quite gets there. As you'd expect in a book about Plato, there's a lot of philosophising, but for all its classical quoting and borrowing, there' s really not that much depth here.
The story is good - a little far fetched at times (and that dream sequence goes on way, way too long!), but there's nothing wrong with that. There are reminders of The Secret History: the Bacchanal, the close-knit group of friends - cold academics, locked in their own small world, a world mostly closed to strangers, like guitarist Jonah - but it's not in the same league as Donna Tartt's masterpiece. The modern-day characters are not as well-wrought as they could be (the classical characters are much better) but they serve well enough to drive the plot. I did care what happened to them, but I enjoyed Plato's story much more than Jonah's. Jonah came across as rather thick; he got a bit annoying at times.
I'm in two minds about this book. Like the Greek tragedies it apes, The Orpheus Descent wears a mask: it feels like it wants, desperately, to be profound - and sometimes it almost is, but the tone is always closer to Dan Brown than David Mitchell. It's an intriguing and involving story; a terrific good and meaty holiday read - especially if you're travelling to Greece or Sicily. Nice and long and thoroughly entertaining, if you don't want to have to think too hard.
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