In the acknowledgments for his novel Entangled, Graham Hancock doesn’t just thank his family and his editor, but also “Ayahuasca,” the “visionary brew” used by Amazonian shamans to make out-of-body journeys into the realm of spirits. He also explains that the novel’s premise, characters, and plot resulted from visions brought to him by Ayahuasca. Given that information, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Entangled is — and I am choosing my words carefully here — a seriously weird book.
Leoni is a troubled teenager in present-day Los Angeles. She has a near-death experience after a drug overdose, travels to a mysterious spirit realm and meets the Blue Angel, who explains that she is an important participant in the fight against Sulpa, an evil spirit from the same realm who is attempting to manifest in our world.
Meanwhile, Ria is a prehistoric teenager living 26,000 years ago. (And yes, I realize “meanwhile” and “26,000 years ago” don’t usually belong in the same sentence. Bear with me.) When she saves a young “Ugly” (Neanderthal) from being killed by youths from her clan, Ria discovers that this (now extinct) humanoid species has mysterious powers, including telepathy and magical healing. Already hated because they look different, the Neanderthals are now the victims of an attempted genocide by the Illimani tribe, who are under the control of Sulpa.
The “meanwhile” part of the last paragraph is directly connected to the novel’s title: Leoni and Ria eventually find out that time doesn’t move in a linear way from the past to the future, but rather follows a complex path full of loops and curves. Because of this, even though they live 26,000 years apart, their lives have become “entangled.” Leoni learns from the Blue Angel that, during her out-of-body experiences, she can spiritually travel far into the past to help Ria save the Neanderthals, because their continued survival is vitally important for the future of the world…
Despite this original (to put it lightly) premise, Entangled unravels because of a few unfortunate shortcomings. The main issue with the book is its structure: 99 very short chapters, usually only 3 or 4 pages long, alternating between Leoni and Ria. These chapters are so short that the reader never really gets the chance to be immersed in one character’s narrative before being forcibly switched to the other. The connection between the two stories isn’t very strong until well into the second half of the novel: you know there’s a link, but you’re still pretty much reading two separate stories, set 26,000 years apart. Worst of all, a disproportionately large amount of these mini-chapters end on cliffhangers, which initially can be a bit jolting — and later on frankly becomes hugely annoying. If only we’d gotten 20-30 pages per story at a time, and fewer cliffhangers, this novel would have been much more enjoyable.
There are a few other issues, but none of them are as problematic as the novel’s structure. Some readers may be shocked at the incredibly graphic and gory descriptions of violence, torture, mutilation and rape. If you have a weak stomach, this novel may not be for you. As for the characters, Ria is definitely a strong female protagonist, but it’s hard to connect with her (although readers who enjoy prehistoric fiction in the vein of Jean M. Auel may feel differently.) The present-day character Leoni is more recognizable, but unfortunately not very likable until later in the story. The cast of side characters has very little depth: they are basically just vehicles to move the plot along, either by guiding Leoni towards her spiritual journeys or helping Ria in her quest to save the Uglies. Finally, Entangled is the first book in a projected trilogy, and even though there’s a solid climax, it ends on yet another tremendously annoying cliffhanger.
In the end, despite its problems, Entangled is still an action-packed and often entertaining novel with a highly original concept. After all, it’s not every day you find a story in which the two protagonists live 26,000 years apart but still influence each other. Graham Hancock has obviously done a tremendous amount of research and invested a lot of time and effort in creating this story. Unfortunately, after the 20th or so mini-chapter ending on a cliffhanger, I genuinely had to fight the urge to launch Entangled across the room. Still, if you’re interested in shamanism, time travel or prehistoric fiction, or if you have anything by Carlos Castaneda on your bookshelves, Entangled might be right up your alley.