No Greater Sacrifice
Author: John C. Stipa
Genre: Fiction, mystery
Release Date: September 4, 2009
How Received: Author
Summary: When terminally-ill archaeologist Renée d’Arcadia is summoned to France to take part in the reading of a will, she is plunged into a maelstrom of deceit and destruction to solve a 100-year-old mystery originating from a sinister church where nothing is as it seems. Renée joins forces with David Arturo, an ex-helicopter pilot with a troubled past, to interpret clues cleverly hidden in tombstones and classic works of literature to find artifacts scattered across Europe. Racing against time, Renée and David must overcome their inner demons to outmaneuver a network of evil bent on destroying them. What they find in each other just might provide answers to some of mankind’s oldest myths.
No Greater Sacrifice is a cross between Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code (or at least these are two of the more prominent titles that is close to his work/influence). If you’re a Dan Brown lover, you’ll love this book. But at the same time, it is in no way comparable, because the concept is unique and there was so much more involved than just mystery. I took a long time to read this because I was so absorbed into solving the mystery behind Sauniére’s secret myself – I was that intensely involved in the novel!
By default, you’d expect plot twists and jaw-dropping action unfolding, but John did it in a way that caught me so off-guard. Sometimes, he’d even do it relatively bluntly and you’d be left screaming, “What?!” at the page. The pacing of the novel was fast-paced most of the time. There were slow moments where Renée and David would debate back and forth, throwing ideas at each other, but after they’d reach a conclusion, the pace would pick up again in action-packed adventure.
I didn’t expect John to be writing about dealing with deeper issues – I really only suspected mystery and adventure. So when other issues came up, like death, betrayal, incest, insecurities, conspiracy, not living up to expectations, and cancer, I was mildly pleased! I loved how these issues were incorporated in the story, yet it never took hold of the story – we could still read about depressing issues without it transforming into a novel about cancer.
The characters were extremely realistic and were very easy to connect with. There’s Renée, who is an archeologist and was always pushed hard by her father. She’s fierce, assertive, stubborn, resilient, and will never say no to an adventure. She’s battling with leukemia and her imminent death from it looms over most of the actions she takes, and she’s more reckless because of it. Then there is David, an ex-army man turned college professor who has inner demons and insecurities. He’s chivalrous, humorous, and so-darn-cute sometimes!
The romance in the novel (because yes, there’s romance, as well!) was outstanding. It was executed in such a way that it didn’t take the spotlight away from the original plot. Of course, it was still present and sometimes entire chapters were devoted to the romance, but ultimately, everything would come back to the mission. And wow, John wrote some romance scenes like a woman! That is not an insult – it’s a huge compliment. The romantic elements were tender, yet steamy; subtle, yet intense. I suppose I just assumed a man couldn’t write passages that radiated with such warmth and love... until I read this book.
The amount of work and research that went into this novel was amazing. There was so much detail of archaeology, mythology, religion, famous landmarks – it was easily overwhelming. I could practically see all the hard work and sweat that went into developing this novel. I have to give John mad props for weaving this tale and connecting all the dots so seamlessly that they made sense (to an otherwise slow person who can’t make connections, like myself!). The man is ingenious for all the debates and clue-work he did!
My only complaints are that John doesn’t name what foods are in the book – they sounded so delicious! I was ready to go out and order half of the things that were mentioned in the novel, but I didn’t have names to go with the delectable foods he was describing! I also didn’t like the alternating point of views within the same paragraph, but you get accustomed to it after the first 50 or so pages. Very, very small dislikes compared to an otherwise amazing novel.
Cover Musings: Okay so I didn’t think much of it at the beginning. I thought it was cool, but not great. Then I finished the story, took another look at the cover, and loved it. I didn’t even realize the clues in the novel were incorporated onto the cover until I finished the book! I was actively trying to figure things out on my own while reading, and I never had the idea to look at the cover. I won’t say what they are or what they mean, but it was cool. There’s even the Tower Magdala in the background if you squint closely enough! And turn the book upside down. Awesomeee!
Why anyone would want to be an archaeologist, Renée d’Arcadia could not fathom. If raw fingers, stinging sunburn, and swear weren’t enough to chase away the hopefuls, mosquito bites the size of a quarter would do the trick. Interested in chapped lips of a leper? Come to archaeology. Modern plumbing? Forget it. There was also the danger of dehydration, being bitten by something poisonous, or getting trapped by a cave-in, along with the mental torture of isolation and claustrophobia. Not to mention the constant doubt that one was even digging in the right place. Those were enough to test anyone’s mettle. (pg. 14)
“The Greek government doesn’t know that I found anything that day in the temple,” Renée said. “And they for sure wouldn’t want to know about the little mess I left behind.” She grimaced.
“Little mess? You started a freakin’ cave in, you moron. Nice work by the way. Way to keep up international relations. ‘Uh, yeah, hi, I’m Renée, I’m an American. I’m here to, you know, like, drink all your wine, trash the joint, steal all your valuable shit and then bolt the country.’ Why didn’t you just drop your shorts and pee on the Parthenon?” (pg. 25)
“What’s the story behind the place? Why were you researching it?”
“I thought every conspiracy theorist and treasure hunter knew the tale.”
“Sorry, must have cut the class the day my conspiracy teacher went over that one.” (pg. 46)
Figuring that he would want a friend to do the same for him, David took off the man’s boots and began stripping him down. David grimaced as he pulled Meehutch’s pants down to reveal shiny cheetah-print briefs. (pg. 116)
Her lips against his ear sent volts of electricity through his whole body. The sensation was exhilarating, and his heart pounded as adrenaline surged through his veins. Heat built up on his scalp. His right hand began moving, seemingly beyond his control. Where do you think you’re going? Come back here. It sneaked its way to Renée’s waist. Stop. Hooked in a belt loop. Oh my God. He hooked on with the other hand. You’re insane. He pulled her close, and felt her hips angle toward him. (pg. 120)
“The true measure of a person’s character is revealed when they learn of another’s darkest fears. It is in that moment the listener either displays grace or the ugly head of apathy.” (pg. 154)
“Do you cook, David?”
“I’m Italian, remember? Take a blood sample and you’ll get marinara.” (pg. 199)
“What are you waiting for? Someone with your beauty won’t remain single for very long in France.”
“I’m taking my time, waiting for the right man to come along.”
At that moment, they both looked up at the house where David and Voison were gaing out the window. A warmness radiated through Renée’s chest. Turning back to Clothilde, Renée was startled by the intense gray eyes boring into her.
“Taking your time? If I had that hunk of a man, my foot would be through the floor on the accelerator.”(pg. 274)
Overall Thoughts/Final Comments: No Greater Sacrifice is a complex novel about intriguing mystery and exhilarating adventure. This book was crafted on a highly intellectual level, incorporating endless mysteries and well-thought out debates. Plot twists and betrayals are around each corner. There were so many things incorporated into the book – mystery, adventure, mythology, religion, romance, archaeology, history, symbolism, social issues, disease, humor... You name it, this book has it! Plus, there are illustrations in the novel. That was way cool and definitely enhanced my reading experience (because I used them to try to solve things out before reading what Renée and David would come up with!). Not to mention the illustrations were drawn by his daughter! How cool is that?
I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone, really.
You can read an excerpt of No Greater Sacrifice at the bottom of John’s interview at theindiespotlight here.