Everyone who knows anything about bicycle racing, and especially epic races such as the Tour, knows that you need to be a world class athlete. They also know that that is not enough. You also need dedicated team work and a perfect strategy to succeed.
"The Race" explores precisely such a volatile mixture of resources and energies. Although a "prequel" to "The Tour," "The Race" takes place at an earlier stage in my new favorite cyclist's international cycling career. Yet, somehow, in reading this earlier work after the first, I felt I gained a deeper insight into Ben Barnes' character and its flaws. Make no mistake about it, this is a book about flaws.
Operating on several levels, Dave Shields wraps a fairly simple plot around a gordian knot of personality disorders. Taken in the context of both books, all of the characters are racing not only the peloton, but also their personal inner devils.
Ben battles not only the prodigious slopes of the Alps, but he also climbs out of his scarred youth. A youth which serves as both his nemesis, and his inspiration. Of course there is a love interest, one which exists as both the source of his strength and (almost) his undoing (in The Tour). The complexities of his relationship with his father have equipped him with both vulnerabilities and strengths which factor into his relationships with Team management figures... without going on about it, this book... these books, work on many, tightly crafted, and insightful levels.
Speaking of strategies and posturing for the win, I also have to credit Dave Shields, the author with a brilliant strategy. I read "The Tour" first,and by my review you can see that I enjoyed the book. After the review was published, in an almost off handed way, he asked,"Would you like to review 'The Race?'"
"Sure, why not?" was my reply. And as simply as that I had been set up! He had me in his sights and he reeled me in. Clearly strategy was at work here. He feigned his real condition and then he sent out the weaker team mate saving the best for last. This book is by far the better of the two! Having said that, again I would stipulate that I would recommend reading them in reverse order as I did. In fact if ever these two books are melded into one, I would have the entire first book used as one huge flashback.
The two novels are so intertwined and the character is so consistent, that I found the first book, "The Race" extremely illuminating of what makes Ben, Ben in the second book, "The Tour." After reading about his challenges in the later book, I often found myself figuratively and literally going, "ah ha" as I discovered the motivations and influences that lay within Ben's past. And now, I, have saved the best for last. In reading this book, I found myself emotionally involved. I found my heart racing with excitement and my throat constricted with emotion at several points in the final third of this book. I actually cared about Ben!
This is an engaging well written novel that I truly had difficulty putting down. Well done Dave! I wish it were longer.