by Jane Jensen
608 pages, Del Rey
Review by Kate Kasserman
Dante’s Equation is a crazy ambitious mix of a whole lotta ideas and a whole lotta characters. Among others: ambitious hardscrabble scientists, religious ideologues, nasty government operatives (both US and Israel), dead geniuses (or apparently dead, heh), kabbalah, a spoiled rich-kid tabloid reporter going for the story of his life (not that he cares about journalism, but to prove at least the possibility of his innocence of the childhood crime of which he is suspected), and a mucho dangerous secret experiment that accidently plays fiddle-dee-dee with the true fundamental law of the universe…which turns out to be (mini-spoiler!) the balance between good and evil. Oh yeah, and Nazis, although for once they’re not the ones trying to wreak havoc by blasting off mysticoscientific cannon-fire.
The basic premise is that Dr. Jill Talcott is trying to make a name for herself as a physicist by proving – experimentally, mind you – an out-there theory first developed by her mentor, now dead. As previously suggested, this is not as good an idea as she thinks it is. Because she wants to debut with a big splashy “wow” moment, she doesn’t tell anyone except her smokin’ hot assistant what she’s up to. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t know; for one, we’ve got this shadowy Dept. of Defense operator who trawls around sniffing out promising weapons research, and he gets wind of Talcott’s dead mentor’s innnnnnteresting work, and from there, he’s on Talcott’s trail.
That would be trouble enough, except that the prescient Old Testament has tagged Talcott’s name For Further Attention, because – well, she could basically destroy everything, which is bad. So a rigid Israeli Bible code nerd ends up coming for her too. And he unthinkingly clues in the Mossad to his interesting research, so the Mossad is after…hm, pretty much everybody. They want the super-weapon first! We also follow along the aforementioned jerky reporter, who ends up in the mix because he’s trying to piece together a fragmented manuscript written by a frighteningly brilliant Polish Jew who finished his magnum opus while interned in Auschwitz (from which, puzzlingly, he seems to have escaped by just kind of…disappearing one day – disappear not like “hey, he’s gone!” but like flash-of-light dematerialization). The manuscript is related because it contains the same do-not-touch-please theory that Talcott is working on.
The down side of following quite so many characters and threads (although they do all come together) is pretty much the one you’d expect: I was curious what was going to happen, but I didn’t feel all that drawn to any of the individual characters. But there can be a huge up side to such a broad canvas, and that happened here too. This book surprised me (as to how, I will not say, because surprises are fun!). I could have, and in fact very much did, quibble with the mechanics and implications of the big surprise, but I was so happy to be knocked sideways like that, I didn’t really mind.
The ending is a bit hasty, but that was all right too – I’d seen some remarkably weird stuff along the way, and all I really required was for it to be tied up in a bow.