As I linked to yesterday, Phenomena Magazine has published "The Phenomena Guide to The Da Vinci Code Guides" by David V. Barrett, the main section of which is a list of reviews. The feature was originally meant for the print version of Issue 5 of Phenomena, which has since been cancelled and is now being released as an 'online magazine' (ie. each article in HTML format, such as this one).
One of the books reviewed is my book about the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, which was originally self-published under the title Da Vinci in America (the new edition, published by DeVorss, is titled The Guide to Dan Brown's The Solomon Key). And quite a negative review it is!
Going from a previous Brown novel to a future one, the most bandwagonny of all the books must be Da Vinci in America by Greg Taylor. The title is utterly misleading; it’s not about DVC at all – it’s about what Brown’s next novel The Solomon Key might be about! But Brown has already said it’s about Freemasonry, so that’s no surprise. We also know that it’s set in America. So, um, could it be about the masonic influence of the founding fathers of the USA? Taylor gives a reasonable potted history of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry before launching into the esoteric layout of Washington DC, borrowed wholesale from The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital (previously published as The Secret Zodiacs of Washington DC) by David Ovason. And, of course, there’s a chapter about ciphers. It’s not a bad book; it’s just completely pointless. And someone should tell Taylor that simony is nothing to do with magick!
First of all, I was quite surprised to see my book reviewed, not least because when David V. Barrett emailed me some 14 months ago requesting that I send him a review copy, I declined on the basis that I didn't think Issue 5 would be released in a timely manner (indeed!). In his response, Mr Barrett said "I feel it would be a shame, and a missed publicity opportunity for you, if I were not able to mention your book." I thanked him again for his interest, and suggested that he feel free to "mention my book" if he wanted. It seems he did.
Hopefully my reticence in supplying a free review copy didn't contribute to the negative review. But surely Mr Barrett - who is a well-regarded researcher and author on secret societies, esoteric history and religious groups - is above that sort of nonsense, and offered plenty of intelligent criticism of my book. I'll work my way through his comments.
- "the most bandwagonny of all the books must be Da Vinci in America by Greg Taylor" - Gosh, the bandwagon accusation is right out front. Is my book targeted at the Dan Brown 'cottage market'? Yes, obviously. But, considering that Mr Barrett had just reviewed 12 or so books on exactly the same topic, surely my book could have at least scored some marks for originality seeing as it was the only one about The Solomon Key? At least I can take solace in the fact that David Shugart's Secrets of the Widow's Son came out after my book, and therefore must be further up on the scale of "bandwagonny" - and as such I've now relinquished that dubious honour! I have to say, this comment by Mr Barrett just sounds personal...what was the point of it?
- "The title is utterly misleading; it’s not about DVC at all" - Well heck, and I thought I had made a title with a nice informative segue between the known and the unknown for DVC readers. Apologies to readers who thought the title "mislead" them, next time I will title such a book The Book About Dan Brown's Next Book (it's bland and unreadable, but at least it doesn't "mislead"). Hopefully the new title (chosen by my publisher, so credit where due!) is more to Mr Barrett's liking. Seriously, this comment itself is misleading, suggesting as it does that the title is deceitful.
- "But Brown has already said it’s about Freemasonry, so that’s no surprise. We also know that it’s set in America. So, um, could it be about the masonic influence of the founding fathers of the USA? " - Firstly, many people still don't know what Brown has said about the next book. Nevertheless, secondly - the whole point of my book was to act as an informative primer on these topics so that people could understand them better before reading Brown's book. Mr Barrett is extremely knowledgable on these topics - most people, however, are not. Lastly, these are not the only topics covered in my book, though obviously they are the central theme (did Mr Barrett read it?) - also covered are subjects such as Skull and Bones, Knights of the Golden Circle, a "pre-history" which covers Rosicrucianism, Jesuits, Oak Island, Albert Pike, and the Mormons (to name a few). His comments here are caustic, and are really a 'nothing' criticism, except that they are designed to reflect badly on my book.
- "Taylor gives a reasonable potted history of Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry..." - Whoah, I'll take that as a positive! Mr Barrett knows these areas extremely well, and so getting a pass mark here without criticism (on topics which make up a large part of my book) seems to me to be a very good thing - although I'm sure if he wanted Mr Barrett could have deconstructed these chapters in scholarly detail to reveal problems (though that would miss the point of my book entirely, in that it is meant to be a fun and 'light' primer on these topics). Too bad the lovin' couldn't last...
- "...before launching into the esoteric layout of Washington DC, borrowed wholesale from The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital " - Ouch! Is Mr Barrett implying that I plagiarised David Ovason's book? I hope not. It certainly features in that chapter, for very good reason - as I state, I think Brown could likely use Ovason's book as a source, not least for the reason that it is about the esoteric architecture of Washington, D.C., but also because he sees the capital as a 'shrine' of sorts to the constellation Virgo (which would tie in further with Brown's theme of 'the sacred feminine"). I discuss Ovason's book in the topics "Washington and the Sacred Feminine", "Scottish Rite Supreme Council" and "An Endless List", but then in the other sections of this chapter his book is not used as a source of information ("Streets and Symbols", "The Washington Monument", "Rose-Line of Washington", "The Pentagon", "George Washington Masonic Memorial"). Hardly what I would call "borrowing wholesale"! Besides which, at the end of the chapter I actually advise the reader seeking more details to read Ovason's book. This is one criticism that anyone can make their mind up on anyhow, as this is the sample chapter of The Guide to Dan Brown's The Solomon Key which is freely available to read online (follow the link).
- "It’s not a bad book; it’s just completely pointless" - Again, I'll take the first part as a pass mark of sorts, but the second part is petty criticism that has no real reason for being in the review. I could ask the very same question about his whole Phenomena Guide...in it he makes clear that he doesn't think much of Brown's book, and doesn't have much to say about most of the books - what's the point of his review? Why did he write it? He answers this question himself in the introduction:
The answer, of course, is its subject matter....For some readers, nothing in The Da Vinci Code (DVC) was new. As we read it we mentally ticked off the sources we could see Dan Brown had used for his ideas...The ideas in Brown’s novel have been recycled by esoteric speculative historians for years. But for most readers, all of these ideas are brand new, a startling and strangely appealing revision of religious history
People new to these ideas are fascinated by them, and are seeking to learn more about them. That's why he was commissioned to write his piece for Phenomena - there is an audience wanting to learn more about the book, and also the books about the book. My book, instead of explaining things to readers after the fact, seeks to enlighten them before they read The Solomon Key, so that they can better understand it. How many people today know that most of the Founding Fathers were Deists, and a number of them very influenced by Freemasonry? Do most people know that both of the candidates for the last Presidential election were members of the same elite Secret Society? The point of my book, is that it is a primer. It's as simple as that. I would have thought a man of Mr Barrett's intelligence would have been able to comprehend that small fact.
- "And someone should tell Taylor that simony is nothing to do with magick" - Okay, fair enough. I made a mistake in that (one) sentence (page 30 for the voyeurs out there). I was under the misapprehension that clergy who dabbled in talismanic magick, for the purpose of material gain, could be charged with Simony. I appear to be wrong. Thanks to Mr Barrett for pointing that out, although I'm not sure why it deserved a whole sentence of a short review. Perhaps it's just a crafty way of implying his superior knowledge on the topics in my book (which doesn't need any implication, it is assuredly true). Of course, Mr Barrett has emailed me in the past, so in this case he could have actually told me himself, rather than asking for a proxy to undertake the task.
Mr Barrett leads off his reviews section with a caustic look at Steven Kellmeyer's Fact and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code, and I found his comments particularly ironic considering they mirror his review of my book considerably:
Throughout his mercifully slim book he has a mocking, sarcastic tone, so much so that on the occasions when he makes valid points they are easily missed. Kellmeyer’s problem is that he is so eager to trash Brown, he doesn’t check his own facts carefully enough.
In my honest opinion, Mr Barrett could have been a little less eager as well....
Update: It seems that Mr Barrett also cross-posted his review of my book (or at least a slightly modified version if it) on Amazon. It's a telling statement that, of all the Da Vinci Code reviews in Mr Barrett's Phenomena article, he only posted mine to Amazon...