Book Review – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s “The Wheel of Darkness”
A few weeks ago I finished reading The Wheel of Darkness, the eighth book in the Special Agent Pendergast series of books written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
Following the events in The Book of the Dead, FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene, have made their way to western Tibet. Their destination is the remote Gsalrig Chongg monastery, a place so distant in the mountains that very few people know of its very existence. This is the same monastery where Pendergast received his training many years ago.
The two of them arrive at the monastery. At first the monks are reluctant to allow Constance inside to seek guidance and train in meditation because she’s a woman, but that changes when the leader of the monks sees Constance’s resemblance to Green Tara, allegedly the mother of all Buddhas. They accept her into the monastery and she begins her training.
While he’s in the monastery, Pendergast makes his way into a secretive inner monastery and learns of the Agozyen, an item so powerful that it can allegedly destroy the entire world. It’s been in the monks’ possession for hundreds of years. The problem is that it was recently stolen by a visitor. The monks ask Pendergast to track down the Agozyen and return it to the monastery.
Pendergast uses a few clues and tracks the thief to China, and then ultimately to England. By the time he’s in England Constance has left the monastery and caught up with him, eager to join him in pursuit of the thief. They discover that the thief was killed in a hotel room, and the murderer had just left literally a few moments prior to their arrival. It’s quickly discovered that the murderer took a cab an hour away to a dock where an ocean liner is about to depart for America.
Pendergast and Constance race across England and barely make it to the Britannia. Captaining the ship is Commodore Cutter, and his second-in-command is Staff Captain Carol Mason. Pendergast secures a luxurious suite, and the two of them board the ship and try to figure out how to locate a killer on a ship with about four thousand people. The ship leaves England and begins its voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to its destination of New York City.
The majority of the action in The Wheel of Darkness takes place on board the Britannia. One by one crew members and passengers begin to disappear and/or die in horrible deaths, and panic slowly takes over the ship. On top of that, a ghostlike figure has been spotted roaming the ship’s inner decks. When the captain refuses to head to an alternate port and get the ship docked as quickly as possibly, the ship’s officers mutiny and place Carol Mason in command. She changes course and heads to Newfoundland. All seems well until Mason tricks the crew, locks them out of the control room, and sets a suicide course towards a set of rocks known as Carrion Rock.
Pendergast ultimately finds the Agozyen hidden behind a painting in Scott Blackburn‘s cabin. The Agozyen is actually a painting that was created in India, and looking at its mezmorizing design causes people to unlock their “evil side” and those inner demons. After he looks at the Agozyen, he no longer cares that the ship is heading towards rocks and will sink if it’s not stopped. He’d rather let everybody on board die, including himself and Constance.
The ship is doomed, the passengers are panicking (some of them try to use the lifeboats to escape), and nobody can break into the control room to stop Carol Mason.
The ghostlike figure (a Tulpa) seeks out and attacks Pendergast, intending to drain him of all of his energy and die. Pendergast retreats into a deep meditative state where a vision of his deceased brother, Diogenes, urges him to fight back. Aloysius does so, using his mental strength to take control of the Tulpa. He then sends it to attack those people who have viewed the Agozyen, including Scott Blackburn and the person currently in control of the ship – Carol Mason.
It turns out that Mason had a fling with Blackburn, and she viewed the Agozyen before the ship left port. The Agozyen causes her to unleash her wrath against the shipping company. Mason had the top scores in the company, but she was always passed for command of a real ship, and not just a simple cruise ship. She creates a plan of using murder to cause chaos in the middle of the Atlantic. After she took command, she set the ship on a suicide course to kill everybody on board.
The Tulpa attacks and kills her. Just before she dies, Mason unlocks the doors and the ship’s crew regains control and barely avoids the rocks, saving the remaining passengers and crew.
The Wheel of Darkness ends with Pendergast and Constance returning the Agozyen to the monks at the Gsalrig Chongg monastery. The monks are convinced that Constance is part of an ancient prophecy, and that her unborn child will be their new leader. Before the events in this book, Constance went to an abortion clinic, but she decided to keep Diogenes’s baby. Now it’s learned that that very child has a future with the monks.
So is Preston and Child’s The Wheel of Darkness any good?
Yes, as a whole, this was a good book and a great addition to the Pendergast novels. It has a nice dose of Eastern mythology and, coincidentally, it goes rather well with 2016’s Marvel film, Doctor Strange.
The Wheel of Darkness is a dark story involving what is potentially a doomsday weapon as, even though it’s simply a painting, it can cause a form of hypnosis that unlocks one’s inner demons. Imagine if the holder of this painting caused a country’s leader to view it, and then having that country using its military to cause chaos and unleash terrible destruction and devastation around the world. The painting has that kind of power in the wrong hands.
As far as the Pendergast books go, this was probably the fastest one to read and easiest book to follow. The two main characters are Pendergast and Constance, and there are only a few people of importance on the ship. The setting is also contained as well, making it simple to know what’s happening at all times.
The ship was pretty interesting, and it was fascinating as the vessel plowed right through an ocean storm, unlike how cruise ships avoid adverse weather. It’s more important for an ocean liner to make a fast pace and to reach its destination as quickly as possible rather than creating an enjoying sailing experience for the passengers. That’s very evident in the way that Captain Cutter behaves and makes his decisions.
My biggest problem in this book was with the Tulpa.
I’ve always had the understanding that Tulpas were limited to only the person that created it. Only that person can see and interact with it, and they are not visible to other people. Nor can they physically or mentally attack another person. It’s only part of the creator’s mind. That’s one of the reasons why some people consider Tulpas to be nothing more than forced schizophrenia. You have to have strong mental discipline to not only create a Tulpa, but to “maintain” it as well. There have been many stories on the Internet about how people have allowed Tulpas to gain control and/or basically run wild, and cause the creator to have a complete mental breakdown.
If Tulpas were visible and able to attack other people on this plane of existence (a.k.a. our everyday world), imagine the sort of chaos our world would experience if people wanted to unleash that power. They would be the ultimate assassins who could pass through walls, never be harmed by bullets or knives, and stop at nothing until their target was killed. You don’t have to be a monk to create a Tulpa. With enough mental focus over a period of time, literally anybody can create one.
As far as the story allowing a Tulpa to not only be visible, but to have it attack and kill other people, that’s just too unbelievable for me. Yes, there have been science-fiction elements in other Preston and Child stories, but the vast majority of it is still in the believable category. That’s not the case with the way that they used a Tulpa and had it act in a key part of this story. The Tulpa here felt like a cheap way to solve a problem.
When you remove the Tulpa, The Wheel of Darkness is a dark but entertaining story.
Read it. Enjoy it. Move on to the next book.