The past laid bare – Nancy Madore’s “The Hidden Ones: Legacy of the Watchers (Vol. 1)”

Description by the author / blurb:

As CEO of her own thriving company, Nadia Adeire is flush with success, but a secret society dating back to the Essenes believes her to be one of the ancient djinn: the notorious demoness of Hebrew legend, Lilith. What’s more, they have reason to believe that she’s plotting a catastrophic attack on the world. Nadia is snatched from her ‘perfect’ life and caught up in a maze between a present day disaster and the ancient legends of the djinn. The only way out is to retrace the steps of her deceased grandmother, Helene. The deeper Nadia delves into the past, the harder it will be for her to emerge unscathed. But it’s the only way to stop this impending disaster that was set in motion five thousand years ago.
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Review

Nadia is the chief manager of a successful company working in humanitarian catastrophe relief. A company making money out of misery, say the ones. A company striving to alleviate human suffering, say the others. As says Nadia who believes in her cause. You have to play by the rules of capital if you want to help people, she says. Her kidnappers may think otherwise. Because kidnapped she is. But quickly both her abductors and herself realise that they are different people than they thought each other to be. Nadia is not the imminent threat of a foreign life form and her kidnappers are not barbarians pursuing base interests. And without taking too much notice of it, Nadia is drawn into their mythological mindset, learning about hidden beings still living among us, thousands of years old, with powers by far exceeding the natural. They are the Nephilim, begotten, as already the Bibles tells, of men and the fallen angels – that is, the angels that descended unto earth.
It is, however, important to point out that this novel does not pursue a religious, but strictly a fictitious mythological perspective. The Bible snippets from before the Flood are read against their context and often content. The Christian tradition of the primordial world events is rearranged very freely. And the angels, as mighty and angelic as indeed they are, never have seen God. Even the angels can only believe. In the kidnapper circle the theory is voiced they might simply be extraterrestrials.

But the angels, despite their materialistic grounding, seem now sufficiently detached in their high and mighty business. Still virulently messing in earthly concerns are the Nephilim. In former times they ruled as kings on earth and were even venerated as gods. But somewhere down along the historic way, they acquired deep-seated spite for the human race. For reasons, it appears, entirely malignant, the Nephilim try to inflict harm on the human race in general, but on the Western world in particular. It is part of Nadia’s task to stop that from happening, in the case of what seem to be the wrongdoings of a female Nephilim: Lilith. She is connected to Nadia by the memories that have been handed down from her grandmother Helene, who encountered Lilith in person and listened to the story of her life. And Nadia’s task will consist simply in that – in retelling the past, in passing on the knowledge passed down to her. And her kidnappers will listen. They will try to gauge leads from Nadia’s story for what cunning move Lilith is scheming, and when and where it will strike.

It wasn’t easy to clarify for myself why the characters of the mythological and historical reminiscences couldn’t affect me at all. It’s not that their motives wouldn’t be described. It’s not that their feelings wouldn’t show, their restraints, their passions. It’s not that their relations wouldn’t be nuanced. It’s not that they wouldn’t show integrity, a recognisable core of habit and thinking in even widely different actions. These characters have all that. But yet – they are uninteresting. I never wanted to stay with them – I wanted to leave them – leave them for the really interesting parts of the novel. As laborious and redundant as devolve the reminiscences, as straight and exciting flow the present-day scenes.

I call the mythological/historical parts closed not in the sense that the reader, coming back from the present-day storyline, would already know everything about them. I call them closed in the sense that whatever might have happened in them is not necessary to know for making the present-day story happen. As far as is visible for the reader, nothing is gained from the past that alters the course of the present. And what is gained he won’t be told except when it’s too late to make for exciting news any longer.
The kidnappers get Nadia to tell her family lore precisely because they are searching for clues to identify the approaching catastrophe. But Nancy Madore doesn’t dress up the indications, allusions and revelations that build up the system of a detective plot. The plot of the historical parts is streamlined and leaves no mysteries, no suspense, no suspension of meaning the author would invite the reader to decipher in detective work. The two important clues the kidnapper group derives from Nadia, they don’t discover from her story, nor could the reader discover them from it. They get them thanks to Nadia’s intuitions and to her anticipating on the further development of her tale.
In the one instance, Nadia’s memories help her find out about the nature of the attack Lilith could be planning. Still, it will only be some sixty pages later for that revelatory memory to be also shared with the reader. By then, already measures in present-day have been taken to avert the specific kind of danger envisioned. The historical revelatory bit, arriving too late, contains no surprise element, has no repercussions on the present threat and thus only slurs the pace of the novel.
And indeed, when her retelling of her memories arrives at its close, when Nadia elaborates on the marriage life of her grandmother, there is not even the appearance of a connection between the two different time planes. The kidnappers nudge her to tell the family lore to the end. One of them says that, by hearing about her, Helene has grown dear to him. He simply wants to find out what happened to her. The reader, however, can hardly stand this further stretching of a tale disbanded from the suspense of the present-day catastrophe.

I’d like to repeat that the suspense of the novel is solely drawn from the incertitude of the catastrophe and the efforts to find indications for how it can still be prevented. To the contrary, the scenes from the past aren’t pulled onward by a comprehensive, suspending theme. They are rooted stagnant in the past, they are done; nothing can be changed about them.

Historical novels, of which the outcome is known, are exciting by the unknown elements they contain, ultimately by their fictitious parts. But with this novel playing on two different time planes, the historical parts suffer by the deficit of comparison. Their result on the story has already been shown, while the parts of present time are sparkling impatiently against the yet undiscovered horizon of the future.
A novel is a realm of its own, with a landscape of its own. Tension parts cannot be defined as ideal figures, but only in the context of a specific story. This context constitutes the tabloid of comparison between different novel sections.
The mythological/historical parts of “The Hidden Ones” might have actually been exciting, had they made for all of the novel. But as it has been published, its heights of tension force are exclusively sustained by the imminent catastrophe in the here and now. As such, by comparison the events of the past are the valleys of the novel. The valleys, unhappily, are steep and broad, even deepened by the character descriptions, instead of lifted. Portraits of characters freeze to still lifes when they aren’t drawn into meaningful actions with an outcome not set into stone or otherwise redundant. The current of tension running through a story can make character development crackle and flash like fireworks. But a story in which the current is lying dead only stretches into languidness by quite any kind of descriptions, be they of characters or of anything else.
As a consequence, in ‘The Hidden Ones’ the reader can see something as cosmic as the Flood happen, he can even see a main character threatened by it, and still, he will be rather bored by it. When the catastrophe of the past comes rushing in, he hopes for the next page to turn again unto the actual world with its uncertain catastrophe.
Half of the novel, however, really is allotted to the historical prelude. Thus half of the novel is tedious to read, as good as might be the other half.

This serious misgiving about the structure of the book does not, of course, alter the fact that on a technical level, it has been edited meticulously. The text gleams with professional polish, the writing is fluent and befitting.
Basically, just one flaw should be brought to attention: the few battle scenes depicted are slowed down unnecessarily by phrases too long. They take up too many events without due regard to difference in time and sequence. This is, for instance, a general structure in the encounter between Gilgamesh and Humbaba, both Nephilim: “This only set Humbaba back for an instant before he drew back his arm in preparation to strike a blow of his own with the ax he was holding, but Gilgamesh brought his fist up as hard as he could under Humbaba’s jaw.”“The impact threw his head backward and he fell, or so it appeared until he swiped up the ax he’d dropped earlier and jumped back in one fluid movement.”
Similarly folded sentences occur when Lilith deals with the city guards of Lagash; i.e. : “The moment his head began to drop a second time Lilith pounced, twisting her dagger viciously into his kidney while grasping his helmet and jerking back his head.”
The perception of the actions is hampered by rolling them into a single sentence and connecting them on an equal level of time.
It is, however, my conviction that action scenes engage the reader best when they let him participate in the perception of the protagonists. The latter have a perception of a rapid succession of events, instead of a perspective encompassing several happenings. True enough, a more comprehensive view can also be an enriching element, like long-distance camera sweeps in a movie battle. But distance, for the observer, translates into reflecting, generalising, into the grouping of events – cognitive motions that abstract from the concrete passing of one moment to the separate next when actions come hammering in with each blow of the weapons a new, singular threat.
For this reason, in the few concrete battle scenes, I experienced the language as inadequate to the purpose. But else it is chosen carefully and throughout quick to handle for the reader’s mind.

As a major deficit remains the structural component. Even so, the present-day plot of the novel is crafted persuasively. The tension is maintained until the resolution, which will show whether the Nephilim can triumph this time with their mischievous strategy. Supported by the professional shape of the text, the suspense arc of “The Hidden Ones” unites sufficient qualities under its frame to secure a solid gain of three stars.

Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Link to Amazon USA (paperback, Kindle also available)
Link to Amazon Germany

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