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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tour Stop and Book Review: Written in the Ashes by K.Hollan Van Zandt

Publisher: Balboa Press
Genre: HF
Trade Paperback, 416 pages
Book Source:
My Rating: 90/100

From the Tour Home Page:

Who burned the Great Library of Alexandria?
When the Roman Empire collapses in the 5th century, the city of Alexandria, Egypt is plagued with unrest. Paganism is declared punishable by death and the populace splinters in religious upheaval.
Hannah, a beautiful Jewish shepherd girl is abducted from her home in the mountains of Sinai and sold as a slave in Alexandria to Alizar, an alchemist and successful vintner. Her rapturous singing voice destines her to become the most celebrated bard in the Great Library.
Meanwhile, the city’s bishop, Cyril, rises in power as his priests roam the streets persecuting the pagans. But while most citizens submit, a small resistance fights for justice.
Hypatia, the library’s charismatic headmistress, summons her allies to protect the world’s knowledge from the escalating violence. Risking his life, his family, and his hard-earned fortune, Alizar leads the conspiracy by secretly copying the library’s treasured manuscripts and smuggling them to safety.
When Hannah becomes the bishop’s target, she is sequestered across the harbor in the Temple of Isis. But an ancient ceremonial rite between a monk and priestess inside the Pharos lighthouse ignites a forbidden passion.
Torn between the men she loves, Hannah must undertake a quest to the lost oracles of Delfi and Amun-Ra to find the one thing powerful enough to protect the pagans: The Emerald Tablet.
Meanwhile, the Christians siege the city, exile the Jews, and fight the dwindling pagan resistance as the Great Library crumbles.
But not everything is lost. . .

My Thoughts:

Written in the Ashes is about how attitudes towards paganism changed, as a result of a rising tide of Christianity,  in the Great city of Alexandria, thus possibly dooming the Great Library and it’s head librarian Hypatia.  Early Christianity was not a tolerant religion and certainly couldn’t abide by intelligent outspoken women.  Therefore, Hypatia was an easy target for radical Christian leaders in Egypt.  Hypatia was a philosopher, and strove to expand mankind’s knowledge by making copies of every strip of text that found it’s way to Alexanderia, and keeping them safely in the Great Library.  Unfortunately, the Great Librbay was ultimately destroyed and with it the hopes for survivial of all the pagan religigons that were in Alexandria at that time.  All of this is of course supposition on the part of the author, however to me it made perfect sense and a great vehicle for what this book was truly about; to me anyway.

Before the Great Fire, we learn about several major pagan religions through the eyes of Hannah, our storyteller.  Hannah, a Jewess, enters into Alexandria as a slave stolen from her father.  However fate or a great force has different plans for her.  Hannah is fortuitously bought by a man named Tarek, and is ultimately owned by a wonderful and intelligent man named Alizar.  Alizar by far, is my favorite character from this book.  Alizar is many things, a vinter, a philosopher, a protector of knowledge, and most of all very respectful of everyone he meets, evens his slave Hannah.  

Hannah has a very good life and through her eyes we learn about several pagan religions: the rites of the Priestesses of the Temple of Isis, the beliefs of the Brotherhood of the Nuapar, a gentler sect of the Christian religion, and finally the followers of Amun-Ra.  Although terrible events happen in this story, the basic story to me was how, regardless of your individual beliefs we are the same men and women who basically believe the same thing, just in a different way.  We should all just learn to get along, for goodness sake, and be respectful of one another.  I think this quote says it best:

"You see, the one God, the Great I am of Moses, is a radiant mystery, like a light through colored glass, like a light that is too bright to look upon.  And so we interpret that light through colored glass, a bit like the dome in the Great Library.  Each color is a name we give it: Yahweh, Ahura Mazda, Krishna, Isis, Poseidon, Demeter, Elohim.  It is though we can only describe that much greatness by naming it in part.  By definition, I think God, or Goddess, must be beyond our intellectual comprehension, the way geometry is beyond what a fish can ever know."  (page 285)

So religion aside, the journey to get this message was a pleasant one.  Hollan Van Zandt’s descriptions of ancient Egypt and Alexandria were fabulous.  I tasted the sand in my teeth and was scared to death when the Parabolani were in the area.  I did lose myself in the story as I read, and I love it when books do that.  I liked all of the characters, even the ones that were mean (looking at you Cyril).  There were two issues I had with this story.  One, I never got a good grip on Hannah’s age, and although it seems silly, it sometimes affected the way I interpreted her actions, and her character in general.  I did like Hannah, however at times she worked a nerve.  My favorite female character would have to be Hypatia, and I will be researching her in the future.    

Two, the character of Tarek and something he does at the end.  I don’t want to give it away, but I thought it was rather obvious and couldn’t believe the other characters in the story couldn’t figure it out.  For as smart as they were, and in consideration of how Tarek acted throughout the story, I just felt this action was a given.  Otherwise I enjoyed the story immensely, and would recommend it.  Especially for those of you who love Ancient Egypt.

For more information about the author and her work, please visit her website:

Thanks to Teddy Rose of Premiere Virtual Author Book Tours for my review copy and including me on the tour.

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