I love ancient Egypt. I’m sorry, that sentence doesn’t accurately describe my feelings towards the subject. If I were standing in the same room with you, I would yell “I LOVE ANCIENT EGYPT THIS MUCH!” and spread my arms as wide as they could possibly stretch, just to give you a tiny taste of my enduring love. (I believe it can be traced back to this Sesame Street clip) So I was really excited when I first read the premise of Written in the Ashes, as it is set in Alexandria after the fall of the Roman Empire.
The book revolves around Hannah, a young Jewish shepherdess, who is kidnapped, sold into slavery and finds herself working in the house of a renowned wine maker and secret alchemist. When Hannah’s talent as a singer is discovered, she quickly lands in the Great Library, learning the ways of the bard. Hannah interacts with a few historic figures and groups of the era throughout the story, and finds herself on a quest to find an ancient tablet that could protect the Pagan and Jewish communities against the radical Christians who have taken over the city.
I’m a big fan of historical fiction that tries to fill in missing pieces of history, which is what K. Hollan Van Zandt does in Written in the Ashes. I also really love when a bit of fantasy or supernatural elements are part of the plot. Part of what intrigues me about ancient Egyptians is their spirituality and belief in an afterlife. I don’t want to give anything away, but I really enjoyed the storyline of Julian the monk and the twists Hannah’s quest took. I honestly didn’t think the author would go down that road, so-to-speak.
While I think the book contained all the fundamentals of a great and engaging story, as a reader I felt like I was held an arm’s length away from the characters and heart of the story. I couldn’t connect to Hannah or any of the other characters in the novel. There was also a point in the book where the story jumped ahead three years after a crucial plot point, which is fine, except the characters seemed to pick up everything right back up where they were a few pages ago. “Oh hey, that really important thing that happened three years ago? I just NOW thought of something relevant to that moment that will probably change everything. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before now!” Perhaps it was just me, but it felt a bit jarring.
Aside from those small quibbles, I thought the story was interesting and I really enjoyed the small supernatural elements woven into the novel. The writing and the descriptions are lovely; I just found it a bit cold. I never warmed up and fell in love with the book like I wanted and thought I would. It could be I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read this book when I did, which is perhaps why I didn’t connect with it as much as other readers. If you like historical fiction (and Egypt!), I would give it a read and see what you think. In fact, come back tomorrow for a guest post from the author and a chance to win your own copy of Written in the Ashes!
3 out of 5 stars
Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt
Balboa Press (2011)
eBook: 401 Pages
Thanks to Virtual Author Book Tours for my review copy! If you want to read the other tour posts, you can find all the links here. You can also join the discussion and ask the author questions here on Goodreads.