The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar
Set in 8th-century Saxony, this early-medieval pageant follows Leova, a peasant woman who has had her religion desecrated, her husband killed in battle, and herself and her children treacherously sold into slavery. They fight to survive and to stay together, using their wits and compromising their principles in ways readers may not find admirable. Leova seeks a protector, and becomes the concubine of a man who seems kind and good, but who will not marry her. Her beautiful daughter Sunwynn becomes attracted to the man whom readers know has killed her father. Hugh is an honorable, upright man, but his slaying of Derwine may have destroyed a future for him and Sunwynn. Son Deorlaf escapes and tries to become wealthy enough to buy freedom for the family, but he pays a high moral price.
The story makes a compelling start in a fresh, interesting setting, but some may think the plot slows through the middle as event follows event in the family’s lengthy struggle to stay safe and somehow regain their freedom. New relationships form, secrets are revealed, and the bittersweet ending seems to foreshadow happiness for the three. The story stands alone, but a sequel would be welcome to see where the characters’ new lives will lead them.
Readers may find that the characters come across as curiously flat at times, despite their dramatic, perilous lives. What saves this book is the vivid historical backdrop. Descriptions of Carolingian Europe are fascinating and glow with an almost three-dimensional richness, like a stained-glass window in words.