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FREE FOR THREE DAYS: MAY 23, 24, AND 25, 2012!
Be sure to check the price before clicking on “purchase.” I’ve done my best to make sure these promotional days are activated, but I have been notified by other authors of problems getting their promo days to actually appear.
From Chapter Seven:
Slinging a bow and quiver of arrows over one shoulder, she scraped snow from the trunk of a cypress, clearing a bare strip all the way around. Barbs of gale-driven ice lashed her eyes and cheeks as she found what she was looking for, evidence of frozen lichen on what should be the north side. She staggered into the blizzard, hoping she’d successfully determined east, and Knossos.
I do your bidding, Athene. I follow your will. Please, please—
The plea died before it formed. Menoetius would never forgive what she had said. There was no use asking.
Snow fell like a cold white ocean from a darkly overcast sky. All sound was muffled. There was no way to be certain she’d chosen the right direction. If only the sun would come out, even for a moment.
Menoetius’s warning returned. What if this reckless escape sent her straight to enemy search parties?
Surely they wouldn’t be looking for her in such a storm.
She closed her eyes. Show me the way, my love.
But there was only the swish of snow eddying in the wind. Only Menoetius’s face when she called him ugly.
Then she heard it. The crunch of deliberate steps. She opened her eyes and stared into the face of a large wild goat, its long, arched horns almost invisible under a coating of snow. It stood the length of a half-grown fir tree from her, staring back, perhaps trying to understand the sight of a motionless human transforming into a snow-drenched pillar.
Its meat would provide food for a month. But something stopped her even as her half-frozen fingers felt for the bow. Athene. Lady of the wild things.
Losing interest, the ibex turned and lumbered away. Aridela followed, trying to keep a discreet distance.
It came to a steep hill, dotted with mounds of stunted juniper bushes and a few twisted pine trees. The beast climbed effortlessly, crossing beneath a curious rock formation that rose high and curved into an arch, like a doorway. Aridela craned her neck to see the rough crown, half hidden in storm fog. Forced to use her hands as well as her feet, she scrambled then slipped backward, unable to secure footing in the slick snow. Within seconds the animal had disappeared. “Wait,” she cried. “I can’t walk as fast as you,” but wind and a wall of snow stuffed her words back into her throat.
Iphiboë materialized before her, arms extended. “Aridela!”
Shock drew Aridela up short. She tried to blink the snow from her lashes, fighting hope and disbelief. “Iphiboë?”
Before she could begin to accept this miracle, the image disintegrated into the dark, solid form of Menoetius. Snow caked his hair and beard. He squinted. His mouth lay tense and severe.
“What are you doing?” Without waiting for an answer, he picked her up like a twig and flung her over one shoulder. “Two more steps and you would have been over the edge. How much would that help your people, you lying dead at the bottom of this gorge?”
Thanks to all who entered my Goodreads giveaway, lovely people who are willing to take a chance on my books.
I’m so pleased to have Lavender Ironside over for buttered crumpets, coffee, and conversation about her historical novel, The Sekhmet Bed. Read on for insight into this long gone, but never forgotten, world.
I’ve already written a review for this exciting book, which can be found HERE and on Lavender’s Amazon page.
I enjoyed this book so much. It held my interest and captivated me from page one to the end. Lavender brought this ancient world and its characters to vivid life. The story revolves around Thutmose I, the “first” of the Thutmoses (of which, I believe there were three.) We also become intimately acquainted with Ahmose, her sister Mutnofret, and Hatshepsut, Egypt’s legendary female pharaoh (The Sekhmet Bed covers the time period before Hatshepsut was born and soon after, while she’s still very young.)
Without any more ado, here is the interview:
Lochlann: I understand that you’ve decided to concentrate on other genres besides historical fiction in the future. So that leaves me wondering if you have shelved the sequel to The Sekhmet Bed. I for one hope that isn’t the case.
Ironside: I haven’t shelved it, that’s for sure! It only needs to be polished up and edited, and it will be ready to go. I fully intend to write and release the third book in the trilogy, too, which explores Hatshepsut’s relationship with her daughter Neferura. (I’ve chosen to portray it as a rather rocky relationship, which is taking some risks with probable history!)
In fact I’ve felt inspired lately to write more historical fiction, but I’ve come to grips with the fact that my interests in historical fiction don’t tend to be highly commercial. If I do decide to continue writing historical novels it will be “on the side,” so to speak, while I pursue traditional publishing with my other books, and I will continue to self-publish the historical fiction…unless I should luck into an offer from a brave publisher I can’t resist!
So the fact that I’m focusing most of my writing efforts on my literary novels doesn’t mean I’ve entirely given up on historical fiction, and certainly not on the Hatshepsut books. Historical fiction will continue to be what I do “for fun” rather than as a career pursuit, but I will keep producing it.
RL: I’m happy to hear that! How is your indie “experiment” with The Sekhmet Bed going? Have you had time to come to any conclusions about self-publishing?
LI: Self-publishing is A LOT OF WORK. For very little payoff. That’s it in a nutshell!
But I’ve also learned that it feels very gratifying to see that readers are finding and loving my book when several months ago I had nearly resigned myself to the thought that it would remain forever a trunk novel. I worked on the idea behind The Sekhmet Bed and its sequels for two years, and spent nearly another two years trying to sell the first two books to publishers with the help of two agents at a major literary agency. It was somewhat upsetting to think that four years of passion and work would just sit in my closet gathering dust. I’m so grateful that modern self-publishing has gained some credibility over its previous status and that it’s become so easy to produce a quality product that readers can enjoy. I am so happy every day that my book is being appreciated by new readers.
Still, self-publishing is so much work and it takes so, so long to get a meager payoff. For a self-published novel, my book is doing respectably well, but I still haven’t come close to earning back a fair compensation for the time I’ve put into promoting it, let alone the time I’ve put into formatting it or writing it.
Traditional publishing through a publisher with a good reputation and strong distribution still looks to give a better bang for your buck to me. That’s why I’m still avidly pursuing it with other works. I believe self-publishing will continue to gain credence and one day will have a reputation for quality that is almost as good as traditional publishing. But we’re not there yet, and I am trying to start a writing career here, not nurture a hobby!
RL: The relationship between Ahmose and Mutnofret was spellbinding. It went from one extreme to the other, and took me with it. Was that a difficult aspect to develop to your satisfaction? Did you have any real life role models to use in your efforts? The love, the rivalry, the betrayals…it was all magnificent.
LI: Oh, gosh. Here it is. The question I fantasized about dreading back when I expected this novel to sell traditionally. I envisioned interviews just like this and gulped a little when I wondered how I’d answer this question.
Probably best to be straightforward!
The big, intense, crazy fight and reconciliation between Ahmose and Mutnofret was inspired, I am ashamed to admit, by an unbelievably stupid, pointless fight my sister and I were in years ago. We didn’t speak to each other for a year. It was the biggest waste of precious time in my life. The one and only thing I can say for that period of my life is that it helped me write a believable rivalry and reconciliation between two sisters later, when I wrote The Sekhmet Bed.
I adore my sister, who is my only sibling, beyond all reason. She and I have been best friends since I was a baby and she was my doting Sissy. (I still call her Sissy. We’re in our thirties and she will always be Sissy to me.) That big stupid year-long fight we had still makes me cringe and fills me with regret whenever I think of it. I mean, we claimed to be adults at the time. What kind of grown-up women do things like that to each other? We weren’t even trying to share a Pharaoh husband, for corn’s sake! That incident, and the time I punched her in the stomach when I was about ten – those are my only regrets in life. Sissy is precious to me, and I hate to think of the times we’ve mistreated each other.
Anyway, I am glad I’ve been able to make something positive out of that miserable experience by writing a believable tumultuous relationship between two sisters!
RL: Well, Lavender, speaking as someone with both a sister and a brother, I can say from experience that these kinds of things happen. What matters is that the discord didn’t last, and maybe even added to the special closeness you share now.
There are several childbirth scenes in The Sekhmet Bed, and I found them all riveting. I’ve had a baby, and one of your descriptions took me right back to that moment in the hospital when I cried, “No. Wait! Stop!” I would imagine that is a universal feeling among new mothers experiencing their first labors. Tell us about the research you did for those scenes.
LI: Several mothers who have read TSB have asked me how old my children are, and whether I had a natural birth, because my birth scenes were so real-feeling. I am very proud that they came across so well, because I have actually never given birth!
This one goes back to my sister, too. Because we are so close, she asked me to be one of her birth coaches when she had her son at home back in 2008. At the time I was doing the necessary research for The Sekhmet Bed and its subsequent books. I knew I’d want to include some birth scenes in at least one of the books, so I got into my role as birth coach and did as much research as I could on natural labor and delivery. It was a fascinating subject that really opened my eyes to how distant and mechanical labor and delivery have become in the United States, and how little women in the U.S. know about their own bodies and a process so essential as giving birth. It scared me, actually. If I do decide to have a child or two someday, I will definitely have a natural birth, at home if I can, with a midwife. My research made me feel very strongly about that.
My primary research source was the various books written about The Bradley Method of natural childbirth. But nothing can compare to the experience of actually watching a woman bring a baby into the world naturally. I was lucky enough to be at the birth of my nephew, and I was supposed to be there when my niece was born, too, but she showed up too quickly for me to get to my sister’s house! Watching my nephew’s birth definitely gave me the “tools” I needed to write the birth scenes in these books.
RL: All that research definitely paid off, I think. Seldom in all my years of reading have I identified so viscerally with birth giving scenes!
I adored Thutomse. You took a murky historical figure and transformed him into a real-life human being. As the story progressed, I liked him more and more. What a renaissance man! He was gentle and wise. Not what I expected! I even felt sorry for him now and then. There must have been a time or two when he thought diving into war was easier than running a household of wives and concubines. Did you find evidence that the real Thutmose was really this way? Tell us about the research you did for him.
Thutmose I is indeed one of the murkier figures in Egyptian history. Here’s what is known for sure about him, in brief. His mother was a commoner, not anyone of royal birth or of the upper classes. His father is unknown. He was a soldier, probably a highly regarded general, and he was chosen to succeed the previous Pharaoh for unknown reasons.
He had two recorded official wives, Ahmose (the queen) and Mutnofret. And he had four sons: Wadjmose, Amunmose, Ramose, and Thutmose II. Of his sons, at least two of them preceded him in death at an unknown age. Most Egyptologists seem to agree that his first three sons (before Thutmose II) had no real standing. The suggestion is that Thutmose lived a common man’s life before he ascended the throne, and that the real Mutnofret may have been his wife when he was merely a general and not the Pharaoh…but that is very unclear and is mostly conjecture on the part of Egyptologists. If he lived with one wife as a common man before taking the throne, then his sons with that wife were no princes – they were just rekhet, just common folk.
Yet when at least one of his sons died (Wadjmose), he used his new wealth and power as Pharaoh to memorialize his lost son with a beautiful chapel built inside the boundaries of Ipet-Isut (Karnak, as we know it today, a complex of important religious buildings). And he framed his sons’ names inside cartouches, which was an honor reserved only for those of royal blood.
This all says to me that Thutmose I was a loving father who grieved sorely for his dead sons. And his rise from soldier to Pharaoh seemed sudden and probably shocking to him, I’d imagine. He was almost certainly married to Ahmose for the express purpose of legitimizing his right to the throne. In ancient Egypt, before the Greek period, women were thought to carry the right of inheritance in their blood not men; and a Pharaoh could only be a Pharaoh if he married the female blood relative of another Pharaoh. As Thutmose I shows, even a common man could be king, if he married a Pharaoh’s daughter, sister, or female cousin.
I wonder, if Thutmose I had had a common wife and a nice, happy family, but then was tapped on the shoulder to become Pharaoh and married off to this strange woman Ahmose…that’s a lot of stuff to deal with. Surely only a very complex and sensitive man would agree to having his life so thoroughly uprooted in that way, for complex and sensitive reasons.
All this is to say, I am also fascinated by Thutmose I and his very strange story, though so little of it is known. If I’d written this book from his perspective it would have been very different, with Tut enjoying his nice, quiet life with Mutnofret and their sons, and Ahmose being a scary royal intruder. Hmmm…maybe that’s an idea for another novel some day!
But Thutmose really did have buck teeth. I can tell you that for sure.
Yet another thing I loved about The Sekhmet Bed was the writing. Your writing is fluid and smooth. Another word I would use to describe it is comfortable, in the sense that you draw in the reader without any lengthy, tedious back story, explanations or descriptions, and this makes us feel comfortable, “at home,” within the world you’ve created. I felt as though I was right there with these characters, living at the mercy of the Nile and the gods, to the point where it felt quite familiar. Tell us about your writing background: how long have you been writing? How has your style evolved? Have you joined critique groups, or have you gone it alone?
LI: Well, thank you! I am very flattered by that. The Sekhmet Bed was my first completed novel, so I am very pleased to hear that it feels so pleasant to read. That is often not the case with first novels! As with any artistic pursuit, there’s a learning curve.
As for how long I’ve been writing…that’s a tough question to answer. I’ve dabbled in writing since my middle school days and I’ve always sort of vaguely planned to “be a writer,” but I never really tried hard to write a reader-friendly book until I wrote The Sekhmet Bed. As I was researching TSB from 2007 onward I wrote and published several short stories, but short stories and novels are different beasts.
I place a lot of stock in critique and I seek it out frequently from trusted sources. I do belong to a weekly writers’ group, but our usual focus in that group is poetry (something I enjoy writing but will probably never try to publish!) I did not workshop The Sekhmet Bed to any appreciable degree, although my friend Lori Witt did give a lot of feedback on the first draft.
If my writing is appealing, I have my lifelong reading habit to thank for that. I very firmly believe that writers who don’t read a lot…well…you can tell when you read their work. I think a conscientious regimen of reading, and reading widely, not just within your own genre, is a must for any writer. The more ideas and techniques you’re exposed to, the more informed and confident your own ideas and techniques become. Writers can never stop reading, and reading like maniacs. I grew up in a family of artists and I know how important constant immersion in the “art stream” is to keep the creative brain vital. Writing is no different from any other art. We need to stay excited about books and stories in order to stay excited about our own books and stories.
As for how my writing style has changed…I’ve discovered I have much more of a passion for writing contemporary literary fiction than historical fiction! I guess fans of my book won’t love hearing that I am putting most of my writing effort into stuff that’s not historical fiction. But as I said at the beginning of this interview, I’m not giving up on historical fiction entirely.
RL: How old were you when you decided you wanted to write? Was there some particular thing in your childhood that contributed to this resolve?
LI: Oh, my, yes. Watership Down.
My mother thinks she is dyslexic, though she’s never been diagnosed, and reading has always been a struggle for her. She didn’t want Sissy or me to have the same troubles with reading, so she got my sister started early, and my five-year-old sister taught me how to read. My mom encouraged it by never putting limits on whatever I chose to read. I have an old copy of Charlotte’s Web with a handwritten journal of my reading progress in the front and back of it. My mother recorded how far I got in reading that book each day and how I felt about the story. The journal is dated 1983. I was three years old.
So my reading was always encouraged without limits, but I was obsessed with rabbits when I was a little kid. My dad rented the gorgeous animated film adaptation of Watership Down and we watched it together countless times. When my parents divorced, my sister and I moved with our mom to Seattle. I missed my dad a lot, naturally, and so one day I wandered into the elementary school library and told the librarian I wanted to read Watership Down. She kind of chuckled and told me it was too big a book for me (I was eight years old at the time.) I told her to show me the book. She did – it was a big, heavy, hardback copy. I checked it out on the spot and read it. And read it and read it. I read that book over dozens of times throughout my life – I can’t count how many times now. I found Richard Adams’ writing so enchanting, with its detail and its harmonious word choices. I decided when I was eight that I wanted to be a writer just like Richard Adams.
Watership Down still reminds me of my father and my early childhood. When he passed away I got a tattoo of the Black Rabbit of Inle to commemorate him.
RL: I, too, have loved Watership Down since I was very young! It’s a great book. I also have Adams’s Shardik, although I confess I haven’t yet read it, and his out-of-print book, Maia–which is rather explicit, but so good! Yes, I fully understand the draw of Richard Adams.
I’m also curious about how long it took for you to get comfortable with this era. I saw your credit to the author Joyce Tyldesley. Were there others you found particularly helpful? Did you get most of your information from reading non-fiction or fiction? What little I read of Egyptian history told me that it could easily consume many years if I let it.
LI: Egyptian history is addictive! And so fascinating! It’s so well recorded and that’s a rarity for cultures that stretch back so far.
All of my research came from non-fiction sources, with the possible exception of the inclusion of the “nine kas” bit of the story, which I took from a very old stage play about Hatshepsut which I admired. Otherwise, it was all nonfiction books and several thesis papers by various students of Egyptology I found online.
Tyldesley was the author I used most often because her writing style is so engrossing and fun. Reading her nonfiction is as good as reading fiction about ancient Egypt. Anybody who’s interested in the period should read as many of her books as they can find!
RL: Could you sum up The Sekhmet Bed in one sentence? How about with four words?
LI: Oh, gee…one sentence: A vindictive rivalry between two sisters leads to a life-and-death struggle to name a female child the Egyptian heir. Four words: Ain’t easy being queen.
RL: “Ain’t easy being queen.” I love that! Did you plot out the book with an outline or do you prefer to write spontaneously?
LI: The Sekhmet Bed and its two sequels were specifically outlined in great detail! My other writing – the literary stuff – is much looser and usually spontaneous.
RL: Here’s a question that often enters my mind when I’m feeling whimsical. If Hollywood made the incredibly wise decision of turning The Sekhmet Bed into a blockbuster movie, who would play Ahmose? Thutmose? Mutnofret? And the tender, handsome Ineni?
LI: Oh, no! I am a terrible follower of film, I am sorry to say, and I know very little of actors. So I am sure I will embarrass myself with this answer. But if I could get a time-traveling cast, I see Ahmose in my head as a very young Halle Berry. I think Mutnofret would be played by a teen-aged Glenn Close in good makeup. She has the range to play such a complex character. Thutmose would be Jason Momoa with slightly less muscles and a little more age. He was amazing in Game of Thrones as Khal Drogo. And I think Ineni would have to be Danny Pudi. He’s so cute and sweet-looking, but what a fantastic actor!
RL: Don’t worry, Lavender. I’m just happy you didn’t say “Brad Pitt!” Ha Ha! Thank you so much for visiting my website and giving me these delicious tidbits about The Sekhmet Bed. I’m so glad I have this book, and I know I’ll read it again and again. I can’t wait for volume two in this wonderful trilogy, and I look forward to many, many more Ironside books. Good luck in the future, Lavender!
I think it’s time for cake now….
Learn more about Lavender by visiting her blog. Here she is on Goodreads, and here is another interview of The Sekhmet Bed that I stumbled across, with S.L. Stevens, where you can learn even more about this fantastic book.
Again, another Indie-published book has moved me beyond my ability to express, has left me in tears, and will remain with me for a very long time. Publishers had a chance at this and passed? It’s really inconceivable. (I don’t know if this book was even offered to agents or publishers, so my comment/question might not apply.)
Okay, short rant over.
I’ve read many historical novels in the past few years, or tried to, and have been disappointed repeatedly, almost to the point where I don’t want to read historical fiction anymore, and have gravitated more toward the fantasy genre. The problem is that I can’t seem to get emotionally invested.
In any novel, first and foremost, I need to be invested in the characters. If I can’t find that investment, I cannot care about what happens. Reading becomes a chore. For example. I spent months reading Dreaming the Eagle, by Manda Scott. While I was highly impressed with the author’s vision and ability to write, and many of her phrases were beautiful and visual, I still could not get emotionally invested. It took months to read because I didn’t really care enough to pick it up after putting it down. And it was far too easy to put it down. I wanted to read that book. I’m very interested in Boudica and I want to know everything I can about her. But it was a chore to get through the book, and I haven’t yet picked up book number two. Another example would be Pressfield’s Gates of Fire and The Last of the Amazons. Both subjects are of great interest to me, and I wanted to read them as part of getting immersed in my own story/time period. But I have never succeeded in getting past the first few chapters of Gates of Fire and although I did finish The Last of the Amazons, it ended up being very much like Dreaming the Eagle. I just couldn’t get invested, even though the subject is of interest to me and the writing is stellar. At the other end of the spectrum is The Red Tent. I loved every line of that book and hated for it to end. I could read The Red Tent forever!
Everything in books is subjective, and there are many readers who love the books listed above. It’s very hard for me to pin down something concrete as to why the emotional attachment never happened for me in them. I guess if I had to really try, I would say that the main characters seemed to be kept at a deliberate distance from the reader.
After reading The Sekhmet Bed, I began to understand all this in a better way, because The Sekhmet Bed succeeded where, for me, these other two highly praised books did not. As happened with The Red Tent, I became emotionally invested in the characters. The Sekhmet Bed offers us the princess, Ahmose, and her pharaoh, Thutmose, (whom I adored). Then we get the nasty sister, Mutnofret, and Ineni, the lover. Even Ironside’s secondary characters, like Aiya, Twomose and Sitre-In became real, fully-fleshed out for me. I would pick up The Sekhmet Bed intending to read for only a moment, because a moment was all I had at the time. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, a half hour later, I would still be reading, even though I felt antsy because I had other things I needed to be doing. I could not stop reading. I had to know what happened next. I had to know what was on that next page.
For this reader, that is the mark of a successful novel. I have found this quality is not guaranteed by being published through a big publishing house, or having a well-known name. It isn’t my intent to run down the books I mentioned: they are beautiful in many ways and expertly written. But for me, they were missing the key element I personally require to be satisfied.
It occurs to me that this might be the reason for the popularity of romance novels, which often rely heavily on the thoughts and emotions of the characters.
Many of the scenes in The Sekhmet Bed clearly show how fragile life was in ancient Egypt, even though in some ways, they lived very comfortable, modern lives. Still, the wound caused by an animal bite could fester, and they had no way to stop it. There was danger all around, not only from invading tribes but crocodiles, snakes, and childbirth. Throughout everything runs the gods, their ultimate control, and the need to appease them.
I loved how vividly the author shows the power of women in this culture. I learned so much from this book: about ancient Egypt, and about the possible birth, childhood and subsequent power of Hatshepsut, the famed woman who ruled as pharaoh. I loved how the names of the children, even the Pharaoh’s offspring, were chosen by their mothers. Although the book never ever fails for a single moment in its storytelling ability or in its beautiful voice or in the deep, vibrant connection between character and reader, it still managed to convey a tremendously visual, real, easy-to-identify-with culture and society.
I absolutely loved the full-circle progression of the complex relationship between Ahmose and Mutnofret. I don’t believe I have ever read a book where I disliked a character so much, and by the end of the book I loved her and felt intimately connected to her.
I must stop as this is getting so long. I must not tell more, in fear of writing any spoilers, and because I cannot do any real justice to the many layers of wonderful prose that make up The Sekmet Bed. I will just suggest that anyone who reads this pop on over to Amazon (click on the book cover image) and get yourself a copy.
This carefully, beautifully crafted novel takes the reader on a journey toward love, acceptance, enlightenment, insight, and trust. It really is written in the style of a Victorian novel (It brings to mind several authors) and it takes place in Victorian times. The book is filled with riveting characters, and each one is lovingly fleshed-out, so that the reader grows intimately attached to all (except Sir Edmund and Wyndham, the dark side of the mirror, so to speak), and learns to understand what emotions, life events, and histories are prompting their actions (and in some cases, inactions). While I liked and rooted for Imogen, I was perhaps most drawn to Archer. He is a complex hero in every sense. Young Charlie, too, was a well-drawn child who tugs at, and captures, the heart.
Imogen suffers an attack. This event affects her so profoundly that she runs away from home and what’s left of her family and pretends to be a servant. Her rashly-made choice will change her life, in some ways for the better, and in some ways for worse. Due to the act of running away, she is exposed to Archer, who also has mysteries and pain in his own past, and who is very much drawn to this captivating young woman he believes to be a low-born servant. Yet, subconsciously, he can tell that is not the case. She is also exposed to Sir Edmund, Archer’s uncle, one of the most despicable, unlikeable, cruel fictional characters I have ever had the misfortune and the pleasure of meeting in the pages of a book. Another of my favorites was the wise and inestimable Mrs. Montegue, who throws in her two cents at the most opportune moments, and it would be an error to not mention the tragic, heartbreaking Bess, (Charlie’s mother) who literally brought tears to my eyes; and the crotchety yet loyal Mrs. Hartup. Of the many twists and turns in the human relationships, one that was absolutely delightful, scintillating in every way, was the budding relationship between Clair and Roger. I loved it!
There is growth in this story, setbacks, danger, abuse, triumph and tragedy. There is everything a lover of historical fiction and romance could want. The dialogue is done so skillfully that one almost feels the characters are in the room conversing. I especially loved how masterfully the author wrote anger, confrontation, and arguments. Sexual-romantic tension runs underneath the misunderstandings and miscommunication. Archer and Imogen are obviously very much attracted to each other. Yet, time after time, something comes between them, preventing them from exploring these deeper feelings.
Of Moths and Butterflies is no light, fast, simple, romp. This is a book to sink one’s teeth into, and to curl up with on a long winter’s afternoon. It hearkens back (for me) to the books I read years ago: meaty novels that took their time and told a magnificent story. I wish more books would be written this way.
Highly recommended for those who love big, complex historical fiction novels with a strong romantic element. Clicking on the cover image will take you to its Amazon page.
Divine destiny is a deep-seated theme throughout. Constant regional earthquakes are interpreted by the ruling priestesses as omens, and most everything is imbued with celestial meaning. The reader is immersed in a vivid culture of devoted spirituality. Athene must be appeased with violent sacrifice and every year that sacrifice is the queen’s latest consort – a man who bested all other competitors for the honor of living large for a year and then allowing his blood to consecrate Crete’s soil.
At Historical Novel Review, January 7th, 2012
Set amongst the mystery of the Minoan Labyrinth and the heart-pounding thrill of the bull-dancing ring, The Year-God’s Daughter is the first volume of The Child of the Erinyes, a sweeping epic of a series spanning time from the Bronze Age to the near future. see more
Reviews At Amazon, 2011 and 2012: read them all
This is the first book I have ever read that is told almost completely in dialogue. There is very little description or narration, only just enough, and I must say, with a few minor exceptions, it works beautifully. This author’s gift is dialogue; she must have realized that at some point and she uses it brilliantly. It may well be the best book I have ever read when it comes to razor-like crystalline flow of conversation. So much character and setting comes through simply by the way these people converse. Impressive, and it’s clear the author feels very much at home and comfortable with these historical figures.
Axios is a fast read, not surprising, as dialogue reads more quickly than narration. I was swiftly drawn in to the fate of the protagonists, both good and bad. When the worst thing that can happen happens to Claudia Acte–a trained hetairi, Greek by birth and a slave-prostitute in Rome–(I grew quite fond of how she is almost always called by her full name, Claudia Acte) I was in tears. Her despair rang clear through me; I identified with her suffering as completely as though it was happening to me. I could imagine it all too well, every time she screamed, “Is it finished yet?” Tigellinus is an amazing jerk: even when he finally discovers why she fell into misery so profound only death could give relief, he doesn’t seem to really care, or seem to comprehend his part in it. I’m still not sure if he didn’t do it deliberately. After all, one of the first things he ever says to her is: “Reason? You have just been thrust from the gilded bowers of Reason into the twisted world of Survival. Learn quickly, Claudia Acte!” (I love that line.)
Axios is pure historical fiction. I have never studied Roman history, but the book appears to follow the lives of Nero, Tigellinus, Capito, Poppaea, Claudia Acte, and others of historical record.
Even if you aren’t a fan of straight historical fiction, or of Roman debauchery, or of Christian over-and-undertones, (I fall into all three categories) I can confidently recommend this book. The author paints all three aspects with a light brush, interweaving them together so that none takes precedence. Never did I feel I was being preached to or guided toward some particular belief. She leaves all that to each individual reader. Nero, in particular, is as I have always imagined him. Emotional, immature, selfish, cruel but thinking of himself as the opposite. A baby wearing a crown! He was wonderfully drawn. Tigellinus? I cannot to this moment decide how I feel about him. The first impression given lingered so that later, it was hard to see him in a more kindly light.
My only minor criticism would be that I needed a little more character development. Mostly I feel I can see the protagonists clearly, but still, I needed a little more, especially for Tigellinus, who came across cynical in the extreme, yet seemed to soften somehow, later, but I wasn’t quite sure how, or why. Acte, too, keeps much of herself hidden, even from the reader. I also hoped for a little more of Claudia Acte’s child, a daughter sent to Spain, but we never hear whether they were ever able to meet.
At the other end of the spectrum is the scene of the Great Fire, of which we have all heard something while in school. (“Nero sang while Rome burned.”) This scene was skillfully written. I visualized it all as I rode along with Tigellinus and his man Monsanus, who fought their way into the heat and danger searching for Claudia Acte. Also there is a scene of the classic Roman torture and death in the arena: this, too, was so skillfully written that I sadly envisioned it in detail.
I cannot say whether the author has a feminist intent, but for me, reading the way women and men treated each other in this era, a feminist manifesto shines through. On the one end, far too much of everything creates a sense of cheapness to life. On the other, life is a constant struggle to survive. Claudia Acte is envious of the poverty-stricken slaves who have nothing of their own. “They laughed, they gossiped. And when they were done they departed for their cramped, airless apartments over the stables. Acte listened to them. How could it be? They dwelt amidst squalor and severe deprivation, and yet they laughed. She sat amidst wealth and splendor and endured untold misery.” There seems to be very little in the way of honor, fidelity, or trust in Nero’s Rome. Simply everyone is at risk for all manner of evil, reminiscent of “Lord of the Flies.” One line stays with me: “Gods, Capito, didn’t you bring something to stuff in her mouth?” Capito replies, “I never stir without it. It’s my fist.”
“There was a tendency in Minoan Crete to combine the goddesses into one deity.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
Athene is mentioned again and again on the tablets and records from Crete. Her name was spelled “a-ta-na,” and most agree this was an early form of Athene. On at least one tablet, the name “a-ta-na” is combined with “po-ti-ni-ja,” which is thought to be Potnia. Thus in my book, you’ll see the declaration “Potnia Athene,” used several times. It simply meant “Lady,” or “Mistress.”
It’s important to remember when reading The Year-god’s Daughter (and the connecting books, The Thinara King and In the Moon of Asterion,) that what we know about these ancient, pre-Hellenic deities is sparse and fragmented. That Athene existed on Crete and was very important is pretty clear. That there were other goddesses is not so clear; the various names might well have been titles used for different aspects or roles of the same goddess. My story takes place before the familiar pantheon we all know from Classical Greece. Most experts agree that Athene existed long before they did, and that she came from somewhere else, not Greece. So I chose to use Athene almost exclusively, incorporating the various names as alternate names for her. Athene was The Great Goddess, basically, and all these other images or personalities were simply variations of her. Robert Graves also influenced my decision to use Athene this way. In The Greek Myths, he talks again and again about Athene being a pre-Hellenic goddess of vast importance, to whom the sacred kings were sacrificed, and he shares with his readers many of her Names and Titles.
Many mythologists call The Goddess “She of Many Names.” Here are a few titles and names I used in The Child of the Erinyes.
POTNIA: “Mistress,” or “Lady.”
“The Great Goddess or Mother Goddess held sway until the very end of the Minoan civilization and was even for a time in a dominant position in the Mycenean pantheon, until her position was supplanted by Zeus. The Great Goddess seems to have been called Potnia, at least in the final decades of the Labyrinth’s history. The name recurs in place after place, not just on Crete but throughout the Mycenean world. Meaning no more than ‘The Lady’ or ‘The Mistress’, it nevertheless carried powerful connotations and resonances: it was clearly the proper name of an important goddess.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
“Potnia had a domestic aspect as a guardian of households and cities. She was the wife and mother, the dependable figure of order and reason. In a sense she represented the conscious mind. Hers, probably, was the double-axe symbol that we find at so many Minoan sanctuaries on Crete, but possibly the pillar and the snake were her symbols too.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
BRITOMARTIS: “Lady of the Wild Things.”
“There were wild goddesses too, associated with untamed landscape and consorting with wild beasts. . . . A chaste and free wild goddess, who was a huntress and tamer of wild beasts, is now often referred to as the Mistress of Wild Animals or Queen of Wild Beasts. It seems that the Cretans called her Britomartis, said to mean ‘sweet virgin’, and she became the Artemis or Diana of the classical period.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
Eleuthia: Goddess of mothers and childbirth
“She was named in the temple records at Knossos and her nearest sanctuary, the Cave of Eileithyia as it is known today, is at Amnisos. The Cave of Eleuthia was an important centre of worship from neolithic times right through the bronze and iron ages, into the Roman period. It is even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, Book 19. Inside the Eleuthia Cave is a natural stalagmite protected by an artificial stone wall, the focus of the cave cult and probably regarded as the manifestation or dwelling of the goddess Eleuthia.
Dictynna: Goddess of fishermen, or “of the net.”
It appears that Dictynna, too, was later merged with Artemis. Imagine how important fishermen were on an island like Crete. It’s not surprising they would have their own special goddess, “She who cast the nets.”
“grim faced.” A title of Athene’s, according to Robert Graves. The fearsome aspect, the face of Athene at the moment of death.
Meaning unknown, but this was one of Athene’s titles and/or names. If one types “definition of Areia” into Google search, what comes up are several sites describing Athene.
Laphria: “the goat goddess.”
Graves says that this was Athene’s title representing her as a “goat goddess.” He says that the word Laphria suggests that “the goddess was the pursuer, not the pursued.”