The Bestiary

I thoroughly enjoyed my recent reading of the Nicholas Christopher novel The Bestiary. Like The Shadow of the Wind, it is set in a world recognizable as our own but just a little bit different. Like Possession, in involves a strong protagonist who is obsessed with literature. And like any good bildungsroman, it involves adventure and romance.

The story is about a young man, Xeno Atlas, and his quest to find the Caravan Bestiary, which is a book giving a medieval account of all of the animals that didn’t make it into Noah’s Ark with fantastic illustrations worthy of such mythical beasts. Xeno springs from both Italian and Greek lineage, so his early life is suffused with all of the myths and lore of those ancient cultures. At his grandmother’s assurance, the mythical beasts are still around, and the storytelling is just ambiguous enough to allow the reader to see them in the tale.

Xeno listens to the tales his grandmother tells him and, in time, becomes a Classics scholar. Throughout his studies he spots references to the Caravan Bestiary, including its appearances in this court or that collection through the centuries. He becomes obsessed with it, and after reading the accounts of others who have tried to find the book — perhaps destroyed in the Spanish Inquisition or perhaps still around and revered in some private collection — he embarks on his own quest to find it.

Does he? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but I will say that the story has a very satisfying resolution, if resolution it is.

My quibbles are few. There were a couple of sentences that I thought could have been polished a bit better. And I think his inheritance from his father was too convenient for the needs of the plot to be altogether acceptable, but when you think of all of the fantastic beasts that supposedly walk the land in this novel, those complaints are hardly creditable.

I think Nicholas Christopher is a writer to keep an eye on. The author of fourteen books including five novels, he is a writer I intend to return to.

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