Bitter for Sweet

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A startlingly beautiful historical-fictionalized look at human life in an ancient time, which although easily seen as bleak, desperate and despotic, can also also be seen, (if one looks only a little deeper, and through the eyes of the wonderful characters depicted here), as hopeful, tender, brave and even wistful.

Set in 77 to 63 BCE, in and around the city of Jerusalem and itโ€™s neighboring territories, this story centers on the terrible and bloody series of conflicts occurring in this land and the surrounding desert between rivaling Sadducees and Pharisees, Nabataeans and Romans (amongst others). The final in a trilogy of works, this book is easily read as a stand-alone novel.

Building on the scaffolding created by this violent backdrop, and told in the voices of two unforgettable women, the author manages to craft a detailed, immersive and historically-resplendent tale, seamlessly blending richly-drawn character-based worlds occupying two separate extremes of social position, experience and ultimately, influence.

First, we meet Cypros, a girl we follow from her early teens to adulthood. Cypros is a Nabataean niece to a King, a rock-hard, laser-focused and driven, female schemer and visionary, (unusual for the time, and almost unheard of in this locale). A native of the dry and brutally-impenetrable deserts, Cypros is as determined to claim a place in history as she is to see her loved ones rule.

โ€œShe wanted to become one with something with power. Something that could protect her and hers.โ€

โ€œI will give birth to terrors who rule you allโ€.

Pninah, on the other hand, is introduced to the reader first as a tiny, bird-like ten year-old, suffering from epileptic seizures. As Pninah evolves to womanhood, naive and trusting, living hand-to-mouth on the streets of Jerusalem, she is victimized both by her condition (feared and misunderstood) and her gentle soul, out of sorts and misaligned with the fire and fervor around her.

Amidst a backdrop of what surely must be one of the bloodiest and most volatile eras in human history, Cypros and Pninah, from their separate corners, must make their way in a world as barbaric to women as it is to anyone on the โ€œwrongโ€ side of the ruling faith. It comes as no surprise that the resulting story, their story, is indeed terrifying and suspenseful, but at the same time, their journeys are also heart-tugging, entrancing, and even (without giving the plot away, no spoilers here) somewhat triumphant.

I loved this book, loved these women, their trials, their dreams and their resilience. And most of all, I loved their hearts, and (without necessarily supporting individual actions and goals) I loved their collective abilities to look beyond the present, the horror and the conflicts, to a world (big, or little) โ€œreined inโ€ and thus made so much more livable.

A great big thank you to the author for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.


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