The Immortal Von B. by M. Scott Carter

May 14, 2013
Quick question: has anyone ever heard classical music played on electric guitar? I had never even heard of the idea until I read M. Scott Carter’s The Immortal Von B.

The book opens with the lead guitarist of a garage band, named Josie Brunswick, growing frustrated at her inability to nail Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on her Flying V guitar. According to Josie, the song needs to express more anger. This puzzles her band mates almost as much as it did me, until Josie explains that the song has special meaning for her via a narrative that takes up the rest of the book.

A few years before the book’s opening scene Josie and her family moved from Oklahoma to Vienna, Austria so her father could pursue a career as a geneticist. That plan kind of takes a nose dive when Josie’s mother, a world famous pianist, suddenly dies, leaving Josie devastated, especially when her father reacts by becoming withdrawn and burying himself in his work. Josie copes in turn by burying herself in her music, and seizes to care about anyone else around her except for her only friend, a British hacker and fellow musician named Fa8 (yes, that is how he spells his name).

However, Josie soon finds a reason to start caring when there is an accident in her father’s lab (caused by her) that results in the resurrection of a two hundred year old composer, Mr. Ludwig von Beethoven himself. What follows is a mad and dangerous race through Vienna as Josie, Fa8, Beethoven, and her father are hunted by the research company he works for, and they will stop at nothing to capture and/or kill them. As the stakes are raised Josie not only finds herself developing feelings for Beethoven, but must also come to terms with her painful past.

The Immortal Von B. is fun read that is not only a love story about a twenty-first century guitarist and an eighteenth century composer, but also a tale of overcoming loss. Throughout the novel Josie goes from blaming her problems on her workaholic father, to having to learn to accept the consequences of her own actions. The growth of her character, and Beethoven’s, is interesting to read, especially the latter, who could very easily of been treated as nothing more than a catalyst for the plot, but the author manages to write him in three dimensions as Beethoven struggles to accept who was in the past and his new life in the twenty-first century. Of course the book is not all angst and melodrama, it’s written from the point of view of a teenaged girl, so there are also some very funny moments. More than anything this novel a love letter to music itself, as songs from both past and present are given honorable mentions. Without giving it away, I will say that the ending to the novel leaves things pretty open ended, and I sincerely hope this means that there will be a sequel.

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