Review by John for: Written in the Ashes ~ by K. Hollan Van Zandt (2011)
Historical fiction with a touch of mysticism – set in Alexandra with an uncivil mixture of Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilization.
About: It’s the 5th century, and as the Roman empire collapses there is turmoil in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. For centuries it has been the world’s greatest center of learning, epitomized by its fabulous and legendary Great Library, but now the city is plagued with unrest caused by religious factions. In particular the powerful Bishop, Cyril, is on a mission to convert or root out non-Christians; and all forms of Paganism are declared illegal and punishable by death.
The Great Library is used to opening its arms to learned people of all backgrounds and religions and Hypatia, its amazingly talented headmistress, does not appreciate the Bishop and his intolerant priests. Likewise, many of the city’s elders are used to worshipping their traditional old Gods and some are not prepared to bow down to the new order.
Into this volatile situation comes Hannah, a Jewish shepherd girl who has been kidnapped and sold as a slave to Alizar, an Alexandrian Alchemist. Aided by her fabulous singing voice and musical talents, she becomes involved with the Library, the Temple of Isis and a group of people determined to protect their rights and freedoms. Finally she must undertake a dangerous quest to the lost oracles of Delfi and Amun-Ra to find the Lost Tablet – the only thing that could help protect the pagans and the Great Library. But as tensions rise in the old city, time is quickly running out.
John’s thoughts: There are many things about this book that I like. It’s set in a time and place where the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations are intermingling, and that makes for a fascinating backdrop. While I’ve always been interested in history, until recently (when I read “Cleopatra: A Life”) I knew little about Alexandria, and the more I find out about it the more intrigued I become – what an amazing city it was. Van Zandt then uses Alexandria and the turmoil of the time as a factual foundation for a story that helps to shed light on some dark deeds. It’s primarily storytelling rather than history, of course, and isn’t intended as a history book – nonetheless, I did learn a lot. The book was another reminder of some of the horrors that have happened as a result of religious dogma gone wild.
It’s an interesting story that weaves together history, adventure, a quest, a bit of mysticism, some strong female characters and a touch of romance - the story covers a lot of ground. I did find it somewhat sprawling and felt at times that there was too much in there; consequently the pace dropped off a bit. Personally I would have preferred some tighter editing and a lesser page count. Nonetheless this was an enjoyable read. If you enjoy historical fiction with a touch of the mystical, this one is for you. It’s also the first in a series, so there is more to come. I’d rate the book 3 stars.
Bio: K. Hollan Van Zandt has always loved libraries, oceans, ancient history and migrating birds. Her mentor, novelist Tom Robbins, instilled in her an abiding love and respect for language.She lives in Southern California, and dreams of a home in Greece. This, her first novel, took ten years to complete. You can also find out more at her website; and her book group on Goodreads.com.
Here’s a link for the book’s trailer: http://youtu.be/4D3Gxf5AIjs
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