Friday, 11 January 2013

"The Divining" by Barbara Wood

(Turner Publishing, 2012)
Ulrika has a gift. Visions and dreams of the future come to her. In the beginning, they frighten her and she cannot control them. It is more a curse than a blessing. When she finally gathers enough courage to tell her mother of what ails her, the world as she knows it gets tossed upside down. She learns that her father is in fact alive and that he had left her and her mother for his homeland in Germania. Her gift is from his bloodline. Ulrika decides that she needs answers. So she sets out on a journey of discovery.
Throughout her long journey of discovery in which she travels from the forests of Germania to the deserts outside of Babylon, she meets people who help her harness her gift and understand her place in the world. And at the very beginning of the journey, she meets a man, Sebastianus Gallus, who will also change her life forever. The Roman trader is on his own personal journey – to China. Their two paths intertwine and diverge but ultimately converge.
This is an interesting coming of age story set in the time of the Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Nero. The characters that fill these pages are truly fascinating; from Timonides the Greek astrologer and his simple minded son Nestor, to Primo the battle hardened veteran of the Roman legion, to Rachel the widow living alone in a desert oasis. The settings are rich with description, from the caravan camp to Luoyang, and it is easy to tell that Barbara Wood weaved a lot of research into her story.
I only wish that some sort of historical note had been included in the end of the book. I haven’t been to Sunday school in a very long time, but I had a feeling that Rachel and then Judah might have been the same from the Bible. This is only made sort of clear at the end of the book. I am still not sure if these characters and perhaps others are based on historical figures (well, I know Nero was real – student of the Classics here). Shame on me, I guess, for not knowing my Bible well enough. And I had previously read about possible trade caravans from Rome going to China, but I don’t know how much of this actually happened. Again, a historical note at the end would have been a bonus.
In any case, I did enjoy this book. It was an interesting story. However, sometimes I felt like I didn’t care what happened to the characters. I just didn’t feel for them. Perhaps it was the way it was written – sometimes it read like a history text book. I am all for this, being a lover of history, but I also love to escape into an adventurous tale. I found the love story a little too shallow. Ulrika and Sebastianus seemed to fall in love on the spot. And they continued to love each other after being separated for a long time and did not question each other’s loyalty throughout those years. It was a tad unrealistic. All in all, I think this book fell a little short for me. I would, however, recommend it to fans of Roman history.
The final verdict: 3/5

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