In Daughter of Sand and Stone, Hawker brings us the timely story of Zenobia, an ancient queen of Palmyra, the beautiful ruins of which city ISIS recenIn Daughter of Sand and Stone, Hawker brings us the timely story of Zenobia, an ancient queen of Palmyra, the beautiful ruins of which city ISIS recently destroyed. After that wanton smashing of the iconic columns and other structures, it is all the more poignant to read this vivid and lush telling of the rise of Palmyra’s most famous woman, perhaps Palmyra’s most famous person of either gender. This is definitely a book about a woman who rises above the expectations of her world and breaks the limits of power and action that would normally bind her. Some of this tradition is legendary, some historical, but Hawker has done an excellent job of bringing us a compelling story that stays within the historical realities and constructs the gaps in a plausible way founded in the evidence. This is both the tale of a determined woman who rises to a throne through courage and intelligence, and an unconventional love story that deeply engages the reader’s emotions. One of the great strengths of Hawker’s novel is its rich, descriptive language. She brings alive this exotic setting and places us there with all our senses. For the reader, living in this immersive world adds depth to the fast-paced action, tragic arc of the plot and the multi-dimensional characters. Hawker turns her descriptions of place into integral aspects of the novel. Here, for example, in the opening paragraphs, she paints the physical world, complete with its odors, while portraying both the patterns of everyday life and building a looming sense of threat that will disrupt them. That’s quite a tour de force. “On the last day of spring, the moon is just past full and still visible, pale and round in the late-morning sky. The women of the great chief take their embroidery, their gossip, and their games to the shaded rooftop where the breeze is cool. This is the season when the winds come from the east—from Eran and from India beyond, slow and languid and heavy with the odors of spice: the bitter taste of golpar, the bright bloom of coriander; the low earthy hum of rose; and cinnamon, sweet and compelling as a lover’s voice. These are the odors of wealth, of gold. And gold is the odor of blood.” I recommend this entrancing and exciting novel of a place and time we lost first to time and then again to terrorism. ...more
Hauser brings to life the women of the Trojan War in a vivid, fast-moving story. While tradition recorded only the deeds of men in this most famous ofHauser brings to life the women of the Trojan War in a vivid, fast-moving story. While tradition recorded only the deeds of men in this most famous of wars, Hauser’s legendary women show us heroic feats of courage, passionate love, deep wells of grief, acts of self-sacrifice and a tenacious insistence on hope. Her chapters populated by the gods of Olympus are pitch perfect: their self-absorbed, shallow toying with human life acts as a satiric counterpoint that enriches the emotional impact of this remarkable reworking of the mythic tradition that started with Homer. ...more
Call to Juno is the third in Elisabeth Storrs’ series set in both in the Etruscan city of Veii and ancient Rome. The opening book built an unlikely loCall to Juno is the third in Elisabeth Storrs’ series set in both in the Etruscan city of Veii and ancient Rome. The opening book built an unlikely love story between Roman Caecilia and the Etruscan warrior Vel Mastarna. They were forced into a marriage to build an uneasy peace between their cities, but now in the third book, that peace is long gone. The compelling love story between a man and woman has expanded to the children and extended family they share and the heavy responsibilities as rulers of a Veii under siege that they carry together.
Over the course of this series Storrs builds a vivid picture of the beauty and grace of the Etruscan world—which we know will crumble eventually under Rome’s mighty hand. That ephemeral quality of this exquisite place and time enriches the emotional resonance of the complex bonds and loves that Storrs brings to life. Even the scornful Romans who view the Etruscans as degenerate and effete stop in amazement when they enter Veii and see how much grander and elegant it is than their own capital of Rome. What would our world today be like if the Etruscans, not the Romans had prevailed? Perhaps far more beautiful and gracious.
Storrs intrigues her reader with details about things like an Etruscan lady’s make-up and dress, and she contrasts them with the prim and misogynist Roman standards. Various modern parallels will occur to the reader and this adds depth to the reading experience. Early in Call to Juno Caecilia enters the great temple of Uni in order to placate the goddess. The description of both the goddess and Caecilia gives a good taste of Storrs’ skill in recreating the lost world of the Etruscans:
“Queen Uni towered ten feet high above Caecilia as she knelt before the goddess she’d once worshiped as the Roman Juno. The sculpted face of the terra-cotta statue was serene in the muted sunlight of the sanctum. …A decade of war had taken its toll. The terra-cotta that cladded the columns and roof rafters of the vast temple was cracked, the red and black paint fading…. Despite the negelect of her surrounds the divinity still looked regal. The Veientanes revered her too much to disregard her person. Her goatskin was not tattered, and she wore a diadem and pectoral of gleaming gold. Rings of silver and turquoise bedecked her fingers, and her lapis eyes were deep blue. Gazing at the divine queen’s apparel made Caecilia conscious of her own. Vel was not the only one who was uncomfortable with donning the purple. Yet she could not deny she enjoyed the feel of her fine woolen chiton, its bodice tight, revealing the curve of her breasts and defining her nipples. Its hem was a solid band of cloth of gold. Beads of amethyst and pearl encrusted her heavy purple mantle. She knew her father would hate to see her this way, dressed flagrantly instead of garbed in the modest stola of a Roman matron, wearing a crown instead of covering her head with a palla shawl.”
Another of the strengths of this final book in this strong series is the emotional force Storrs develops not only in the Vel and Caecilia relationship but in a wide palette of characters. When things go right we are celebrating with a lot of joyous people. When they go wrong, we are watching a range of relationships in jeopardy and we are totally invested in them. The betrayals and the unshakeable loyalties will surprise and engage you.
As in the previous books, Storrs narrates from both the Roman and Etruscan point of view. Our sympathies for the Romans are growing more tenuous, although even there Storrs shows some characters transcending expectations. We can understand the concerns of various individuals among the Roman cast and we are well aware the Etruscans would happily destroy Rome if they could, but still, the scales begin to tip decidedly for the Etruscan characters and for the way of life that they have embraced. We want delight in pleasure and the goodness of graceful abundance to win out over stern Roman duty and delight in war. There is plenty to think about as you finish this book. And plenty to feel enriched by. In the meanwhile, you’ve been drawn along by an entertaining epic. Call to Juno is a book for long, delicious savoring. ...more