Title: Written in the Ashes
Author: K. Hollan Van Zandt
Publication date: September 27, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
See my 2012 review of the original publication here.
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 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.
An Excerpt from Written in the Ashes
This excerpt is a continuation from
Book Talk with Alana on Oct. 7th.
The men and Hannah were struck speechless, marveling at the stark interior of the raised city, which was strong as stone and intricately sculpted at every turn in rounded corners, narrow windows, and curved steps. The Siwan people had relatively few possessions, it seemed, as most of their baskets and pots were woven from palm fronds or formed from the same smooth clay as everything else. Items of the civilized world like spades and animal harnesses, they had probably acquired from trade with nomadic tribes like the Bedouin. The desert had literally baked everything they knew into permanent existence. With a little water they could dissolve a wall in a house to create a door, or in one day a family could add a room onto their dwelling for a newly married couple. Everywhere dusty goats hopped from ledge to ledge, braying constantly as they sat with their stubby legs curled beneath them on the highest roofs of the city. Occasionally, a solitary jeweled figure in long black and orange dress, her face hidden beneath a veil, would appear and then vanish into the labyrinth of the city.
Surprisingly, many of the Siwan people did not react to the presence of the caravan at all, but merely looked up, then went back to whatever they were doing: repairing walls, milking goats, carrying water, or brandishing sticks at overburdened donkeys. Others recognized the opportunity to make sales and rushed toward them with handfuls of brightly colored fruits and crude silver jewelry, jabbering in a language that sounded like the cacophony of birds to Hannah.
They walked on, turning their eyes in all directions as the children led them through the dusty streets that curved like the inside of a seashell. Alizar and Gideon, the two tallest men, were especially aware of how narrow the doors and passageways were and how low. The Siwan people were considerably smaller than the Greeks and quite used to crouching. The men felt like giants in their midst. Hannah, her thirst slaked at last, looked around herself in awe and delight, enjoying the way the stark landscape illuminated the atmosphere as if it had captured a thousand years of sunlight in stone. She eyed the fruits, ruby red, pale green, and longed to taste that flesh after so many days of salted meat and nuts.
As they continued through the labyrinth of the city─climbing steps, crossing bridges, and turning down curving narrow passages flanked by high steep walls─still more children flocked to the caravan leading Hannah and the others towards some unspoken destination deep in the heart of the magical city that smelled of salt and strawberries.
At the end of a long winding passage where laundry hung from long sticks jutting from the walls overhead, the children climbed a set of steep stairs that ran diagonally along the edge of a tall wall. At the top of the narrow steps sat a plump little opening that could hardly be called a door. They each had to enter on their knees, and even then it was a squeeze. Hannah crouched low and ducked her head.
On the other side, once her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she could see that they were in a small square anteroom with lofty ceilings. The sound of flies buzzing in their ears, they all sat shoulder to shoulder as the children crawled over them to sit between their feet or against their broad shoulders, examining their nostrils and beards, fingernails and freckles. An adolescent boy with legs as thin as a grasshopper’s that jutted from beneath his dusty loincloth clutched a staff and called through another doorway to someone behind the walls. Remarkably, Hannah felt no fear at all, only nervous excitement. However, beside her, Gideon shifted on his haunches and whispered to the others, “Trust no one.”
A few moments passed, and then a stooped, formally clad elder appeared in the hollow of a small open passage that led out of the room. He wore long robes the color of sand decorated with black stripes, and for a moment Hannah thought perhaps he might be a scribe, until she noticed that one of the man’s long black sleeves concealed a withered hand. As he came closer, Hannah saw that this was not his only misfortune. Both his eyes were capped by snowy cataracts, a condition that she had seen many times among the elder shepherds of Sinai, which afflicted many desert dwellers due to the harsh conditions of the climate. The old hierophant sensed the strangers before him and smiled politely, taking a seat in front of them, swatting the flies away.
“Welcome, Welcome. Omar-the-Goat, I am,” said the elder in broken Egyptian. Then he coughed violently and spat on the floor. Tarek looked at Gideon, who looked at Alizar, who looked back at Jemir, who looked at Hannah. No one knew quite what to do, but since Tarek and Alizar were the only two among them who spoke Egyptian, they responded by introducing themselves, and then Alizar explained where they were from.
This pleased the old man who laughed, coughed, spat, and then said cheerfully, “The dung of your people has not been smelled here for a thousand years! Delighted you we.”
“Is he the king?” Gideon leaned in toward Alizar.
This excerpt continues at 100 Pages A Day on Oct. 26th.
About the Author
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.
Follow the tour:
Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus Oct 6 Guest Post & Giveaway
Book Talk with Alana Oct 7 Review, Interview, Excerpt, & Giveaway
Buried Under Books Oct 14 Excerpt & Giveaway
Books, Books, & More Books Oct 17 Review
Words And Peace Oct 19 Guest Post & Giveaway
Deal Sharing Aunt Oct 20 Interview & Giveaway
Lisa’s Writopia Oct 21 Review & Interview
100 Pages A Day Oct 26 Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway
The Musings of a Book Junkie Oct 27 Review & Excerpt
StoreyBook Reviews Oct 28 Excerpt & Giveaway
Bites Nov 8 Review
Romance ‘Out Of This World’ Nov 16 Review, Guest Post, Excerpt, & Giveaway
Infinite House of Books Nov 17 Interview
JBronder Book Reviews Nov 18 Review
Our-Wolves-Den Nov 21 Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway
Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus Nov 23 Review
Fresh-scraped Vellum Nov 28 Review
To enter the drawing for an ebook
copy of Written in the Ashes,
just leave a comment below.
The winning name will be drawn on
Friday evening, October 21st, and the
ebook will be sent out in December
after the tour ends. Open worldwide.