Fiction · Magical Realism · Mystery/Thriller · Religious · Suspense

The Mona Lisa Sacrifice: Book One of the Book of Cross by Peter Roman

My Rating: 4/5 stars

This book came to me one (VERY) early morning in a podcast, CBC’s The Next Chapter.  It was the weekend, it was 6am, and by some abonimable act of nature, I was wide awake.  Lovely.

So what does one do in that situation?  They listen to bookish podcasts of course.  Not only that, they head straight over to Amazon to purchase whatever books the host tells them to.  Right?

Only if they want them to sit on a bookshelf for close to two years!  This book was featured as a read-alike to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (which I also bought that morning and still haven’t read).  Now, creatures, gods, and mayhem?  That’s all right up my alley.  I’m not sure why I have never picked up this book before.  I suppose it was one of those things that I was sure my sleep-deprived brain had only temporarily convinced me I’d enjoy.  In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I DEVOURED this book.

Now, before I go any further, here is the Goodreads blurb:

For thousands of years, Cross has wandered the earth, a mortal soul trapped in the undying body left behind by Christ. He’s been a thief, a con man, a soldier, and a drunkard. He’s fought as a slave in the Colosseum and as a knight at King Arthur’s side. But now he must play the part of reluctant hero, as an angel comes to him for help finding the Mona Lisa – the real Mona Lisa that inspired the painting. Cross’s quest takes him into a secret world within our own, populated by characters just as strange and wondrous as he is: gorgons and dead gods hidden away in museums; faeries that live in countryside pubs, trapping and enslaving unwary travellers; and super-rich collectors who trade magical artifacts among themselves. He’s haunted by memories of Penelope, the only woman he truly loved, and he wants to avenge her death at the hands of his ancient enemy, Judas, a forgotten god from an ancient time. The angel promises to deliver Judas to Cross, but nothing is ever what it seems when Judas is involved, and when a group of renegade angels looking for a new holy war show up, things truly go to hell.

WHOA! Right?  Sounds a bit contrived, perhaps verging on the side of lunacy? Not to mention sacrilege in all its many forms? You’re not completely wrong.  This is no serious work of literature.  It is a thoroughly entertaining read, however.  The light, conversational first person narrative is spot on.  Cross (as he’s called) is one of the most enjoyable main characters I’ve met on the pages in a long time.  He’s funny, mysterious, sarcastic, cynical…he’s had triumph and heartbreak…he pretty much hates everyone he meets.  Yeah, he’s a hoot to spend 300-odd pages with.

The book works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  (Think chapter titles like How NOT to steal a gorgon’s head and Always expect the unespected when raising the dead – I love it! Such flippancy for usually heavy topics)  Peter Roman isn’t relying on realism, overly-decorated language, or even a straightforward story arc to tell his tale.  He simply tells it.  He jumps around, he ressurects historical figures from the distant (and not so distant) past.  He has crammed every single mythical creature I’ve ever heard of (and even a few I had to look up) into one book, thrown the angels and Christ’s body in the mix, and come out the other side unscathed.  No easy feat! (Not to mention the incredibly creepy version of Alice – fairly sure of Wonderland – that Cross has chosen to befriend in the book.  I’ll be seeing – and hearing – her in my dreams tonight.  Brr.)
Okay, so maybe if you’re a pretty serious church-goer or if you like your books with a hefty dose of common sense and realism this book isn’t for you.  But if you have a sense of humour, if you love fantasy and all the beings who inhabit those worlds, and you want a completely bad-ass hero (I use the term “hero” LOOSELY by the way. Seriously, the guy is a complete asshat sometimes) then I suggest you pick up this little gem.

Oh yeah, and did I mention Peter Roman is a Canadian author? SOLD!!! I’ll be honest: I usually can’t stand series.  I simply cannot be in a monogamous relationship with a set of books.  Just can’t do it.  However, I will be heading straight over to Amazon after this to pick up any sequels since this one was written. This is pure, unfettered action and entertainment at its best.  I may have just found the first book series I will read to the end.



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