The Reincarnationist

Written by M.J. Rose
Review by Sarah Johnson

While visiting Rome sixteen months ago, Josh Ryder barely survived a minor terrorist incident. Ever since, he’s had traumatic flashbacks to a previous life as Julius, a pagan priest forced to defend his beliefs and his love for a vestal virgin in a newly-Christian Roman Empire, circa 391 AD. Now Josh works for the Phoenix Foundation, an organization that counsels children who experience past life regressions. His group’s quest to locate ancient memory stones, tools that will completely restore people’s past-life memories, takes him back to Rome, and to a previously unexplored underground tomb. In the presence of a 1600-year-old female corpse, Josh’s visions of Julius and Sabina, the priestess he loved, completely overpower him. All too soon it becomes clear that his group has competition for the stones—perhaps defenders of Church doctrine? This sends Josh and a fellow researcher, Yale archaeologist Gabriella Chase, on a hunt to find them first.

As someone who counts Anya Seton’s Green Darkness and Barbara Erskine’s Kingdom of Shadows among her favorites, I felt this novel suffered in comparison initially; it seemed well-plotted but average, and in the Roman sections, the historical detail felt sketchy. Yet about halfway through, as multiple plot threads coalesced and additional characters dropped into place, pacing picked up, creating a page-turner that culminated in an explosive, unpredictable finale. Another Da Vinci Code knockoff, you might think, yet despite the multiple time-shifts (which are handled extremely deftly) and other supernatural aspects, The Reincarnationist carves out different territory and feels much more believable. If there’s a sequel forthcoming, I’ll clear a weekend to read it.