Young Claudia, distant relative of the emperor Tiberius and eventual wife of Pontius Pilate, is a dreamer prone to prophetic visions. She is troubled by what she sees, and steals away from her parents while they are in Alexandria to become a devotee of the Egyptian goddess, Isis.
With this earth-mother goddess as her guide, Claudia discovers love and endures tragedy during the latter days of the Roman Empire, more a spectator of than a participant in the cruelties of the era during which Jesus was alive. Full of vivid descriptions of villas, banquets, temple rituals and more, Claudia’s story provides a provocative glimpse into what life in Rome’s upper classes might have been like for a sensitive, impressionable young woman. With an undercurrent of mystery and unfulfilled longing, Claudia encounters a succession of legendary figures during her years as the wife of the ambitious Pontius Pilate. Among those she befriends is Miriam Magdala, a courtesan, who becomes a follower of Jesus—and, according to May, his wife.
The way Claudia’s life and visions intertwine with the historical events of her time is the primary interest of this novel. The story pulls you along, and the extensive research into the period is evident. Yet May has set herself a difficult task that doesn’t quite succeed. In choosing the peripheral Claudia as her voice, May furnishes the reader with only a third-hand glimpse of the earth-shattering events that occur around her, including everything from the assassination of Germanicus to the crucifixion of Jesus. While this makes for an engaging story, Pilate’s Wife remains more of a romance than a historical epic. Nonetheless, the prose is smooth and the characters engaging. Pilate’s Wife is a good escapist, summer read.