Written In the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt
Publisher: Harper Collins (Nov. 29, 2016)
Category: Historical Fiction
Tour Dates: May-June, 2017
Available in: Print & ebook, 554Pages
“Written in the Ashes is one of those rare novels that sets ‘history’ afire, to bathe readers in the glow of a greater, hotter truth. Fans of The Mists of Avalon will find this romantic/alchemical/feminist/spiritual epic equally captivating.”—Tom Robbins, bestselling author of Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. and Villa Incognito
In the bloody clash between Christians and pagans in fifth-century Alexandria, a servant girl becomes the last hope for preserving peace in this evocative and thrilling tale—a blend of history, adventure, religion, romance, and mysticism reminiscent of The Mists of Avalon.
After she is abducted from her home in the mountains of Sinai, Hannah is enslaved and taken to Alexandria, where she becomes the property of Alizar, an alchemist and pagan secretly working to preserve his culture. Revered for her beautiful singing voice, the young slave is invited to perform at the city’s Great Library, where she becomes friends with the revered mathematician and philosopher, Hypatia, as well as other pagans who curate its magnificent collections. Determined to help them uphold pagan culture and traditions, Hannah embarks on a dangerous quest to unite the fractured pieces of the Emerald Tablet—the last hope to save the pagans and create peace.
On this odyssey that leads her to the lost oracles of Delfi and Amun-Ra and to rediscovered ancient cities and rituals, Hannah will experience forbidden loves, painful betrayals, and poignant reunions. But her efforts may be in vain. Returning to Alexandria, Hannah finds a city engulfed in violence, even as her own romantic entanglements come to a head. Now, it’s not only her future, but the fate of all Alexandria that is at stake.
WRITTEN IN THE ASHES
K. Hollan Van Zandt
Jemir was the first to hear the odd sound from deep within the walls of the house. He looked up from organizing the spices in his kitchen, an activity he greatly preferred to any interruption.
Then it came again.
Had a peacock had gotten into the house and started rearranging the furniture upstairs? He waited several minutes, and, hearing nothing more, took up a handful of fine cinnamon powder and set it on a sheet of parchment, which he then folded lengthwise and carefully tapped into a funnel set precariously on top of a jar. When the powder was half dispensed, a crash came through the wall with such sudden force that Jemir looked up with a start and knocked the funnel from the jar with his elbow, sending aloft an expensive crimson cloud.
With a sneeze and a torrent of obscenities, Jemir threw down the rag resting on his shoulder and went in search of the interruption.
He was not the only one.
Leitah, the young Byzantine maidservant, simultaneously dropped her soggy sponge in the bucket on the stairs and crept through the house with her ear bent to the walls.
Both Jemir and Leitah followed the sound from opposite ends of the house, and came to stand in front of Tarek’s door. They shared a conspiratorial nod, and Jemir set his hand on the iron latch. But as he lifted it, he found it was locked.
Jemir knocked. “Tarek? What are you doing in there?”
There was no reply. Then came the muffled, mysterious shrieking.
Jemir knocked again. But as his knuckles struck the door for the third time, it opened in front of him, and Tarek appeared, shutting the door behind him. “It is nothing,” he said, beads of sweat at his temples, his sleeves rolled up to the elbow. His bare chest bled where he had been scratched.
Leitah touched the blood on Tarek’s skin and recoiled. She showed her burnished red fingertip to Jemir without a word.
“You cannot bring a peacock in the house, Tarek.” Jemir pushed the boy aside. “They are stupid birds that will fight their own reflections.”
“No.” Tarek covered the door with his scrawny limbs and fixed his eyes on the squat Nubian cook with a look that was not to be challenged.
With that, an argument ensued that involved much shoving and yelling of insults between Jemir and Tarek. Even a stranger could have inferred that each held unspoken past grievances against the other. Leitah slipped away unnoticed. When she returned, it was with two enormous red hounds and their master between them.
“Silence!” One ominous word from Alizar ended the squabble between Jemir and Tarek instantly. “Explain yourselves.”
Jemir and Tarek bowed their heads.
Alizar set his penetrating gaze on Jemir. “Speak.”
“He has a peacock in his room.”
“No, there is nothing,” insisted Tarek.
“A strange sound disturbed my work,” said Jemir. “I came up here to investigate. Leitah heard it as well.”
The mute servant girl nodded.
“Tarek, is there something in your room?” Alizar asked. Tarek cringed at the simple question. When punished as a child, Tarek would envision Alizar standing over him like Poseidon at the surf’s edge, wild white mane swirling in the storm above him, trident in hand, lightning flashing in the distance as his sonorous voice lashed out. Tarek wanted to lie, but he could not summon any story worthy enough. The truth would have to do.
“Go on. What is it?”
Tarek nudged the door with his foot.
And that was when he revealed to them his secret, the girl he had been hiding in his room for nearly a week. The girl he had purchased for one hundred gold solidi in the market who had neither died nor recovered.
“Hermes, Zeus, and Apollo.” Alizar swept a hand through his white mane and stopped in the center of the room, for there was Hannah, naked, curled against the wall at the corner of the bed, her knees drawn up to her chest. Her hair was matted and wild about her body as though she had crawled beneath a dead bougainvillea bush. Her skin glistened with sweat, and the sheets beneath her were soaked through. The acrid stench in the room of sweat, urine, and vomit was overwhelming, and drew a curtain of flies.
Alizar did not turn his eyes from the girl. “Jemir, shut the door.”
The door clicked shut.
“Tarek, where did she come from?”
“I do not mean the market, boy. Tell me where she comes from.” Alizar studied the girl before him. This was no Egyptian slave. Her skin might have made her Persian for its smooth sheen the color of sandalwood, but her eyes . . . her eyes were a blue as dark and deep as the Sardinian sea.
Praise for Written In the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt
“In her captivating debut novel, Written in the Ashes, K. Hollan Van Zandt brings to life a fascinating and forgotten woman of history: Hypatia of Alexandria, who may have been one of the greatest female minds of all time. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to walk the streets of long ago Egypt, then look no further. You will be enthralled!”– Michelle Moran, international bestselling author of Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter
“Van Zandt’s vivid description of the Great Library instantly transported me to a lush fifth century Alexandria. Her lyrical writing style and breakneck storytelling kept me riveted to the very last page.”– Robin Maxwell bestselling author of The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn and Signora da Vinci.
“Going back so far in time leaves an author with little written record to rely on for fact. The burning of the Great Library at Alexandria was a monumental loss to humanity. The facts of the matter aside, this novel was truly arresting and I had a hard time putting it down to get anything done.
Ancient history fascinates me. Religion fascinates me. This book manages to tie both together in a story that resonates through time.
The book was fascinating. The characters were well developed and I really didn’t want to leave this world of ancient Alexandria. The imaginary, magical priests and the beautiful goddesses created by Ms. Van Zandt lent themselves to a mystical world that was quite believable within its context. As the story unfolded I was rooting for Hannah to fulfill her destiny and find peace with her past. I am looking forward to the next chapters in these characters lives.”-Patty Woodland, Broken Teepee
About K. Hollan Van Zandt
Kaia Van Zandt is a celebrated author and teacher whose novel, Written in the Ashes, chronicles the events that led up to the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria, Egypt. Kaia’s spiritual journey began at age 14 when she founded the youth division of the Humane Society of the United States. Then as a junior in high school, she traveled to the Earth Summit in Brazil, where she taught meditation, and was given the opportunity to work with world leaders on the challenges facing humanity and the planet today, an experience that profoundly influenced her work.
She’s a graduate of Antioch University, where she focused on the intersection between the ancient Goddess traditions and modern culture. Her fascination with healing-both personally and collectively – led her to yoga. During her career she’s worked with thought leaders like Marci Shimoff and Deepak Chopra, actors like Ashley Judd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Garry Shandling, as well as Sony ImageWorks, UCLA Medical, and the San Francisco 49ers. Her beloved writing mentor is bestselling novelist/humorist, Tom Robbins.
Buy Written In the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt (ebook only $0.99 May 29-July 3)
As a reader who enjoys historical fiction, I was delighted to accept the offer to review Written in the Ashes by K. Hollan Van Zandt. As I began reading I was instantly drawn into the story of Hannah, a Jewish shepherdess in the 5th century BC, who is kidnapped by slave traders. Leaving her father behind in Sinai, she is spirited away along with other women. On the journey to what is, at that point, an unknown location, she is repeatedly raped by her captors. The dramatic intensity of this portion of the book sets the stage for a well-written tale of history, religion, love, loss, and mysticism.
When the slave traders arrive at their destination of Alexandria, Hannah is thrust into an unfamiliar world. Purchased on impulse by Tarek, she is taken to the home of Alizar, a wealthy man who becomes her benefactor. After Alizar arranges for her medical care and she is healed, he allows her to remain in his home as a slave. Although she seems to settle into her new life, she plans to escape and find her way back to Sinai and her father.
Alizar discovers Hannah is intelligent as well as very beautiful. However, it is her remarkable singing voice that impresses everyone in the household. Alizar is so moved he arranges for her to be educated at the Great Library of Alexandria by Hypatia.
During this time Christians are attempting to take over the city and are in constant battle with pagans and Jews. Led by Bishop Cyril, they plot to remove all pagans from the city and are even intent on destroying the Great Library. There is a violent clash where Christians led by Cyril’s Parabolani drive the Jews from the city, destroying their homes and killing hundreds.
While the conflicts are central to the story, there is a subplot that involves the search for an Emerald Tablet; a magical stone that is rumored to be the means to peace in the Empire.
Sent to live in the Temple of Isis, she meets a man who sets her on her net journey. Assigned to find the Emerald Tablet, she sets forth by ship in search of the mysterious and valuable treasure.
The author describes the settings in the book, the Great Library and the Temple of Isis most notably, in beautiful detail. Her ability to invest locations with vivid and realistic features is what makes this book a winner.
I had two small points that annoyed me; the repeated use of the word “so” as a transition between scenes and the asides by an “angel” that appear irregularly throughout. While they in no way affected my overall enjoyment of the book, they did cause minor distractions.
I would like to thank Teddy Rose and the author for providing me a copy of the book for a fair and honest review. I am pleased to recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially early Greece and Christianity.
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