Historic fiction. Romance. Page-turner action and suspense. Set in ancient Greece? Not the kind of book I would normally pick up, certainly not the book I would choose to read cover-to-cover in only a couple of days. But.
Elena Douglas is a childhood friend. Our creative story-telling powers connected us well over fifty years ago. We created secret languages, and babbled to one another as we rode buses across Berkeley. We passed notes to one another written in upside-down-backward script about the terrible plot our mutual social studies teacher had unknowingly stumbled into. A wink of bright pink slip peeking out from under the black dress of the matronly Latin teacher became the fodder for a plot so far-fetched the note earned me detention in the tenth grade. Elena egged me on.
Before I moved away from Berkeley, over forty years ago, Elena told me of the plots she was designing for books set in Atlantis. She faithfully went to writers’ groups to develop her skills. This book, and several others she has written in the intervening years, were conceived and polished in these writers’ groups.
So, with a bit of misgiving, I picked up her book. The book jacket, a striking portrait of a young woman, a blurred landscape in the background, perhaps two figures climbing down a hill, allayed my fears of a bodice-shredder interior.
I opened the book, began to read. By the second page Ms Douglas had set up the plot. She didn’t fool around with the rising action one comes to expect with any novel. A young girl, chosen by lot to appease the goddess Athena, is ripped from her family and sent off to Troy for a year, just as her father promises her in marriage to a wealthy, older, vintner. Slave Arion is appointed to escort her on her voyage across the Aegean. Can Marpressa survive?
While a summary of the plot makes her story sound somewhat predictable, the twists and turns Ms Douglas incorporates, jump out in an exciting sequence. Will they survive the dangerous voyage? Will they flee villains? We know Marpressa and the slave Arion will fall in love, but can that love be sustained? And what of the plans of Klonios, the wealthy vineyard owner? And there is the overriding question. Ms Douglas begins her book with an ancient curse of the goddess Athena. Will Marpressa and Arion, by the end of the book appease the goddess, end the terrible plague brought on by the curse?
One device Ms Douglas incorporates throughout her book, which intrigued me, moved me to turn page after page, is her tremendous ability to use vocabulary to paint rich images, create deep characters. Elena is trilingual. Her command of language is extraordinary.
Just then a terrible roar split the air—a many-throated bellow of challenge, of triumph. The invaders had breached the walls,. Their barbaric war cries grew louder every instant, their heavy tramping feet pounded like the hooves of horses galloping nearer, nearer, She heard fearsome thuds and clangs of metal on wood as the Trojan men ran to meet them, only armed with staves and clubs, and fell back with terrible cries. Wounded, dying.
As a word-o-phile myself, I turned page after page in awe of this use of vocabulary.
Another praise to heap onto this book is Ms Douglas’ attention to detail. The book ekes historic accuracy. She costumes her characters with Greek clothing. arms them with battlements of the day, sets them across territory so accurately described I can only imagine she, the author, fought right there, among her characters.
As a history buff, I moved from chapter to chapter, wrapped in the actions, the experiences of Marpressa and her colleagues.
Just as Ms Douglas did not fool around with “rising action” at the beginning of her book, the plots’ complications do not resolve themselves until the final page of her well-written adventure. By that time I, as a reader, had grown to appreciate these well-rounded protagonists. I am ready for their next intriguing crusade. And knowing the fertile imagination of this author, you can bet she has another adventure waiting for us. I cannot wait to read it!
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"