Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Aquarius Key


The Aquarius Key: A Novel of the Occult by Keith Rowley (iUniverse / 0-595-39373-X / August 2006 / 296 pages / $18.95)
Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for iUBR
(Editor's Note: A bio of Malcolm, our newest reviewer will be posted soon at iUBR.)

Author Keith Rowley wastes no time playing the first of many Hitchcockian cards in this masterpiece of occult literary fiction. On page one, svelte, blonde, thirty-eight-year-old Sue Williams is window shopping on a beautiful sunny day. On page two, a man with “unfathomable eyes of naked darkness” and a cold smile envelopes her thoughts with his thoughts before maneuvering her into a waiting taxi.

Later, she tells her husband Bill she was mugged. Her blackmailer has pictures of what really happened, threatens to expose her if she talks, and is soon demanding a greater act of betrayal. So here it begins: an everyday couple is thrust into a dangerous and incomprehensible arena of lies, twisted loyalties and occult schemes with world-changing consequences.

Neither Bill nor Sue has ever heard of Aaron Steen, much less his quest for the Aquarius Key which he seeks via the misuse of rituals from the world of ceremonial Magick. (The “k” in the word “Magick” differentiates its rituals from the mere tricks and slight of hand of stage magic.) Neither of them knows that Bill’s brother Peter has been deeply involved in Qabalistic theory and rituals for years. And finally, when they first learn of such Magick, they don’t believe it’s real.

Rowley writes well and moves the plot forward by unfolding the story through the viewpoints of Bill, Sue, Peter, Steen and the other principals. His language has a fine snap, crackle and pop to it and is well suited to the fast-moving sequences of “every day reality,” the terrifying descriptions of rituals and to the mind-bending images found on higher planes of existence.

Readers of The Da Vinci Code will remember that author Dan Brown used a fair amount of space in his novel having knowledgeable characters inform others—and simultaneously the reader—about the secrets of the Holy Grail. Keith Rowley uses the same technique: characters who are well-versed in the cosmology of the Tree of Life, the principles of the Hermetic Qabalah, the Thelema philosophy and the associated ways and means of ritual Magick also utilize a lot of similar “instructional time” throughout The Aquarius Key.

The challenge for both Brown and Rowley is that while some (perhaps most) of this information will be over their readers’ heads and/or outside their readers’ belief systems, the plots of the novels don’t make sense without it. The extent to which readers of The Aquarius Key view theories of Magick as exciting material that enhances the plot or as tedious detail that delays the action may well depend of their frames of reference.

Readers who love hair-raising occult thrillers will enjoy The Aquarius Key with only minimal study of the philosophical passages. However, students of astrology, tarot, alchemy, mystical Kabbalah, and related paths will find that Rowley’s decision to explain the Magick as the plot unfolds makes the novel a much richer book. To this end, he has also included appendices with additional information about Magick, Qabalah, the Tree of Life and the work of the historical, adept Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), who makes an appearance in the book.

Perhaps, in future editions of the novel, Rowley will expand the appendices to include references to the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), Argenteum Astrum (A.'. A.'.), Cor Lucis and other organizations whose teachings include ritual Magick and the Thelema philosophy. This will help readers find the fragile boundary lines between the inner journeys of real non-confrontational Hermetic practice and the stuff of good occult fiction.

In her book The Mystical Qabalah, adept Dion Fortune wrote that each symbol on the Tree of Life represents a cosmic force and that we establish a union with that force through our concentration upon the symbol, resulting in a “tremendous access of energy to the individual soul.”

Aaron Steen and his compatriots know well the pathways and forces hidden away upon the Tree of Life from all the Bills and Sues of the world, and how through personal will and the rituals of Magick to wrest from them sufficient energy to do great and horrible things.

Rowley’s highly imaginative plot and exceptional prose have, to the potential delight of Alfred Hitchcock—who surely reads The Aquarius Key from beyond the grave—extracted Bill and Sue Williams from their safe, sunny world and placed them without mercy into a much darker landscape. And as for you, dear reader, your roller coaster ride through the dangerous landscape of the novel will be accompanied by the realization that that you have more in common with the pawns in this cosmic game than with its masters.


See Also: Malcolm's B&N Review
Keith Rowley's Authors Den page
Keith & Hettie Rowley's Homepage
Malcolm Campbell's March of Books
Review at Blackwell (UK)
Writers Notebook review

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