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A Thought-Provoking Tale from a Promising Novelist
on April 3, 2004
Young New York banker Edward Wozny has his first vacation in years before him and has no idea how to spend his time. Leaving for a new job in London in two weeks, he doesn't mind too much when his financial firm asks him to drop by on a wealthy client to help out on a project. He is disappointed to find out that it is a clerical project but is still intrigued; he is asked to catalog an antique and mysterious collection of books. Between this task and the computer game, MOMUS, lent to him by a friend, Edward figures the time until his departure is sufficiently filled.
With that seemingly innocent premise Lev Grossman begins his novel CODEX, a thriller about books, coincidences, deception and very old secrets. It seems the library, belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Bowmry, may contain a book invaluable to the aristocratic family. And as much as the Duke wants it to remain hidden, the Duchess wants it found. Soon, Edward also wants to find the book, as he is pulled deeper into the search. He enlists the help of an eccentric young scholar, Margaret Napier, to help him catalog the books and understand the importance of this particular one.
Edward and Margaret spend hours sorting and cataloging books in the library looking for the work by Gervase of Langford, a medieval author of a bizarre and legendary tale. Margaret insists that the existence of the book is a myth, but she works even harder than Edward to find it. Meanwhile, Edward is becoming more and more obsessed with the computer game. The game, seemingly nonsensical, is still addictive to Edward, especially when the setting of the game suddenly becomes disturbingly familiar.
What is the connection between the Gervase of Langford book and MOMUS? Does the Langford text even exist? Why does the Duke want it hidden and the Duchess want it found? And what is Edward's role in all of this? As his departure for London approaches, the coincidences grow and Edward finds himself in the center of a strange situation surrounded by mysterious characters who somehow may all be connected.
Perhaps comparisons with THE DA VINCI CODE are inevitable. But CODEX has a different feel, although fans of Brown's bestseller will appreciate Grossman's novel. In CODEX there are no murders and there isn't the immediate sense of danger found in Brown's novel. Edward is not running from anyone or even trying to save someone; he is caught in a strange situation that he finds irresistible. CODEX is about books and their power to hold truths, sustain lies and raise hopes. Bookworms will find Edward and Margaret's bookish task intriguing.
Grossman's thriller is a fun and interesting read. His blending of medieval texts and high-tech computer games as devices to move the plot and occupy the characters works surprisingly well. Edward is not a character we fall in love with or even cheer for, but we are along with him every step of the way for the exciting ride. We understand Edward's growing need to know what secrets are kept in the Langford text and the computer game, and we wonder with him if they are somehow connected.
Grossman's narrative is sometimes pragmatic and sometimes dreamlike, but always enjoyable. CODEX is a thought-provoking tale from a promising novelist.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman