Amber and Clay

Written by Laura Amy Schlitz
Review by Xina Marie Uhl

Ancient Greece. Melisto is the wild, young daughter of an aristocrat, beloved by her father and abused by her mother. Rhaskos is a Thracian slave taken from his mother while a small child, and set to perform the lowest of labors. For much of the book the connection between the two of them is tenuous: only through Thratta, a slave woman who serves Melisto, and the mother of Rhaskos, now lost to her.

Melisto’s life of privilege and difficulty is told in prose. Before becoming a woman, she is sent to Brauron and schooling that involves sacred female duties and the care of a bear cub. Rhaskos’s life as a slave, first to one master, and then others, is told in verse, with lines abbreviated and spacing erratic. Rhaskos performs menial labor, and is often despised by his masters, but in his heart, he dreams of creating art and pursuing philosophy. But how can he possibly rise above his station? Interspersed through these two narrative streams—which eventually meet—are interludes from the gods Hermes and Artemis, and others such as the philosopher Sokrates. Pencil drawings of pottery sherds, urns, vases, and other archaeological finds are also interspersed.

The book, though daunting in length, includes plenty of white space due to the portions of verse. The story weaves effortlessly around Greek history, communicated through art, the form of the narratives, the interludes, characters such as the famous philosopher Sokrates, and the fascinating details of ancient Greek life. The result is a rare, precious work of historical fiction that educates as much as it entertains. Highly recommended.