Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Woman of a Thousand Secrets by Barbara Wood - 483 pgs

Book CoverTonina hails from an island where she doesn't belong. Found in a basket plucked from the sea, she is raised by an elderly couple who recognize her many differences and send her on a concocted mission to find a healing flower. The real purpose for this mission is for Tonina to find her true people and homeland. As she travels across the sea and through the jungles of Central America, she encounters a strange speechless boy, a one-eyed dwarf, and a local hero named Kaan. When circumstances beyond their control force Kaan and Tonina to undertake a long arduous journey together, Tonina begins to learn that the question of her origins may be more complex than she has imagined. As the dangerous mission through the wilds continues, her group attracts a myriad of followers and she and her party encounter ancient tribes, abandoned religious ruins, and deadly enemies bent on destruction. Along with a set of breathtaking discoveries, Tonina discovers that one of her number will be an unlikely ally and friend, and this unexpected partnership may shape the course of her life, forever altering her destiny.

The story of Tonina and her journey was an extremely interesting take on early Mayan and Aztec civilizations. From cultural adversities between tribes, to the religious aspects of the region, the book was an all-encompassing look at a part of world that doesn't get much notice. I found the level of detail of all aspects of the society very engrossing. The book had a directness in tone that made the information particularly entertaining, and although most of the people in the book were fictional, the society and some of the characters portrayed were not. I was amazed to learn of the advancement of the Mayan people in regards to everything from time calculation to cosmetic body enhancements. The religious beliefs of the Mayans and Aztecs were very similar to some of the fundamental truths of Western religion. Most of my enchantment with this book came from depth of the cultural detail and the ability of the author to convey this forgotten culture.

This book was dense with characters, but never became confusing or crowded despite their colorful, in-depth portrayals. I particularly enjoyed the saucy character of One-Eye, the dwarf, and Ha'meen, the aging wizened child who oversaw the palace gardens. Although Tonina's character could be too naive and trusting at times, her intelligence and cleverness canceled out her other flaws. Throughout the story she was genuine and kind hearted, even when circumstances were against her. Only the character Brave Eagle (the speechless boy) seemed out of place. He, in my opinion, was underutilized in the story, and it was a bit confusing to finally see the worthiness of his character apart from being used as a plot contrivance.

The first section of this book, which deals with Tonina's exodus from the island where she was raised, was the only shaky part of the story. It seemed rushed, and the circumstances of Tonina's alienation from the other island dwellers was never fully explained, except that she was different from them physically. I didn't really understand the hostility of some of the others on the island when they reacted to an ordinary occurrence and made it a source for anger and revenge. It was clear that Tonina needed to leave the island, but the catalyst for that conclusion seemed forced and unnatural. This, in my opinion, was the low spot in the book, and because of it, I found it harder to immerse myself in the story. The later sections were more engaging and believable and I found my interest in the story picked up after the first few chapters.

Despite some minor setbacks with plot and character, this was ultimately an enjoyable book. I found it had an odd, irresistible pull to it, and I read along with fervor to find out what would happen next. There were many twists and turns to the tale that were both unexpected and fascinating, and this made up for the previous missteps. This book was an interesting departure from those that I normally read, and I would recommend it for those who would enjoy a peek into primitive Mayan and Aztec culture.


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