And yet, what wonderful villains literature has given us. It’s Satan who’s the truly gripping character in Paradise Lost, Moriarty who comes closest to matching wits with Sherlock Holmes, and Silas, the frightening monk in the Da Vinci Code who is the most memorable.
A common criticism is failure to create “depth of character” in a novel’s antagonist. The more one sided a character is, the less we are told about why s/he is evil, the poorer the quality of the book. Is that really true? Mrs. Danvers in Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca” is quite one dimensional – pure incarnate evil. It is difficult to think of her deep possessiveness as anything remotely approaching love, and we learn little about her background that would explain her motivations. It took a whole new book written over a hundred years later - Jean Rhys’s wonderful “The Wide Sargasso Sea” – to show us another side of the mad and violent Mrs. Rochester. And yet both these characters are so grippingly real, they threaten, at times, to overwhelm the others.
I would say that the more powerfully drawn the antagonist is, the ‘scarier’ the plot, the deeper the sense of threat, and the higher are the stakes, for the novel’s leading man or woman. In The Witch of Babylon art dealer John Madison faces several enemies all of whom are modern day alchemists. In some cases, he doesn’t learn their identities until the end of the book. If we can recognize deep within us, echoes of the same emotions that drive a villain’s actions, or find the author has mirrored experiences in real life about the damage such people can inflict, that is what makes for a great read.
About the book: Out of the searing heat and sandstorms of the infamous summer of 2003 in Baghdad comes The Witch of Babylon, a gripping story rooted in ancient Assyrian lore and its little-known but profound significance for the world.
John Madison is a Turkish-American art dealer raised by his much older brother, Samuel, a mover and shaker in New York's art world. Caught between his brother's obsession with saving a priceless relic looted from Iraq's National Museum and a deadly game of revenge staged by his childhood friend, John must solve a puzzle to find the link between a modern-day witch and an ancient one.
Aided by Tomas, an archaeologist, and Ari, an Iraqi photojournalist—two men with their own secrets to hide—John races against time to decipher a biblical prophecy that leads to the dark history behind the science of alchemy. Kidnapped by villainous fortune hunters, John is returned to Iraq, where a fabulous treasure trove awaits discovery—if he can stay alive long enough to find it.
Thanks to Tor/Forge I have a copy of The Witch of Babylon to give away to a lucky reader. You must be at least 13 years old to enter. This giveaway is for US addresses only. Good luck!