Silk and Song

Written by Dana Stabenow
Review by Ann Northfield

The book begins in China in 1292. The main character, Wu Johanna, is a direct descendant of Marco Polo, the famous traveller from the West. Her journey to the West to meet her family in Venice is set in motion by her father’s marrying an unscrupulous and greedy woman, Dai Fang, who will stop at nothing to get all the wealth and power of her husband’s estate and trading company once he is dead. Johanna now has no protection from her evil stepmother and can stay no longer. She begins an epic trip along the Silk Road collecting various misfits, waifs and strays along the way: two refugees from a harem, a disgraced ex-Templar, a holy man, and others, plus the love interest Jaufre, himself the son of a Templar. She also takes her magnificent stallion, North Wind, who is as much of a character as the humans.

Along the way, the group has various adventures and is more than once forced to fight for survival. The Europe and Asia of the time are clearly portrayed, and the reader gets a real sense of medieval conditions and life for travellers, traders, and local lords. This is a bold, exciting tale which I could easily imagine being made into a film in the style of Spartacus, Robin Hood and Gladiator. There is a real mixture of action, discovery, history and romance, and although it is a chunky read, the pages turn quickly and the tale remains gripping throughout. Stabenow is also the author of the long-running series featuring Kate Shugak set in Alaska.