The Four Quarters of the World
This fast-moving novel focuses on Delphine Chambliss, who, in 1866, travels to Abyssinia from the United States. As she searches for her French poet fiancé, she is caught up in looting by the soldiers of Emperor Tewodros. Among them is Ravinger Howland, a Bostonian adventurer who has become the Emperor’s right-hand man. Ravi finds himself drawn to Delphine, but the Emperor decides she is the Queen of Sheba, while he himself is Solomon. At the same time, he is unable to pull all of Ethiopia under his control, and his increasingly erratic behaviour proves dangerous – especially to those close to him.
There were a couple of transitions in the storyline that I questioned, such as when Delphine moves in with the quirky Kasper Nagel, a preacher she has only just met. And the frequent reference to specific body muscles – deltoid, pectoral, etc – made me feel like I needed a medical dictionary at my side. But the author does a number of things well: her pace is excellent, as is her ability to keep the action varied (white-hot love scenes, anyone?). She unravels backstory throughout the novel, revealing what the reader needs to know at just the right moment. Her descriptions of Abyssinia, of life at the nomadic court, and of the characters and their actions are fascinating and evocative. Finally, she tempers the tragic elements of this story with humour, presenting a life-like picture of a pivotal time in Ethiopia’s history.