Friday, October 17, 2008
Tessa is a hetaera, a courtesan paid to provide company, advice, and favors to the patron who pays her handler the highest price. Though Tessa is a paid companion, she has a unique position in Grecian society. As she is partnered with powerful men, she becomes a sounding board and confidant to them, subtly influencing their opinions on society and the area's politics. Although Tessa has a powerful voice in the community, which is rare for a woman, she doesn't have what she desires most: her freedom. Living with the churlish and abusive Glaucus, her current patron, Tessa's life is filled with bitterness and anger. After a particularly troubling evening with Glaucus that ends in a violent argument, Tessa is witness to an accident that leaves him dead. Now she must find a way to escape the blame for his death and keep it a secret from the powerful men who rely on him. As she maneuvers these intrigues, she meets Nicos, a servant recently hired by the now-dead Glaucus. As Nikos moves into the household, Tessa finds that she can't hide her secret from him and must decide if Nikos will eventually be a help or a hindrance. But all is not what it seems, as many of the people Tessa must deal with have hidden agendas, malevolent plans, and secret identities. Tessa must navigate a dangerous backdrop of deception and naked ambition to find her way to freedom and a new life. While doing this, she must also learn to free herself from the emotional chains that her profession has placed upon her.
Although the first few pages of the story seemed pretty intriguing, I quickly lost patience with this book. One of the reasons was the unrealistically shallow character portrayals. All of the characters were one-dimensional and simplistic. There just wasn't a lot going on with any of these people mentally or verbally, and it felt like I was reading about really rough stock characters instead of people who I was supposed to sympathize with or feel for in any way. Though the story itself was interesting, I never really cared for any of the players.
Another thing I wasn't prepared for were the traditional Christian messages and values throughout the book. I read this book not knowing much about it other than the premise, and was a little put off by some of the sentiments expressed throughout the story. Although it wasn't annoying, there was some blatant proselytizing in addition to some very irksome opinions scattered along the story. In one instance, it was posited that it was a woman's highest imperative to produce offspring; if she didn't, her life didn't amount to very much. I found that passage alone left me feeling really uncharitable towards the book. Had I known that this book was a kind of religious platform, I would have probably had a different opinion of it, because I would have been prepared for it. As it was, the religious messages weren't pervasive or preachy, but they still felt cumbersome and stood out blatantly from the rest of the story.
Lastly, I thought that the writing style was somewhat unvarnished and simple. The sentence construction in most of the book was very basic and unchallenging. I think a little more weight and artfulness in the prose would have shifted the narrative onto a more complex level. Lacking this, some elements that could have been powerful seemed trivial and lacked depth. Overall, though, I found the plot the most interesting thing about the book. Although it only covered a few days, there was much intrigue and imagination in that respect. Despite my other problems with the story, I found myself drawn to the outcome of the personal and political situations that the characters faced. The author's ability to involve fantastically dramatic elements in the story kept me engrossed with the story itself, despite the other drawbacks. The book had a great premise and the possibility of rich characters, but the mechanics of the writing defeated all that.
I think this book would be a good choice for those who enjoy Christian themed historical fiction, or for a young adult audience. As long as the reader doesn't expect too much from the story and can appreciate it for what it is, I think that they can avoid the disappointment that I had with the book. This is supposedly the first book in a planned series called the Seven Wonders. I can't really say that I will be reading any of the others, though the author does include a sneak peek into the first chapter of the next book in the end of Shadow of Colossus. For those who aren't sure about reading the book, perhaps a brief read through of this section might give you an idea of whether you would like the book or the series.