The Serpent and the Staff

Written by Barbara Wood
Review by Kristina Blank Makansi

It is 1450 B.C.E. in Ugarit, Syria, and past time for Leah to be betrothed. Born into a family with royal blood, she is the daughter of a wealthy winemaker who has caught the eye of Jotham, a powerful – and much older – shipbuilder. But when Leah discovers his family has the “falling sickness,” she refuses his offer. The insult to his reputation causes Jotham and his scheming sister to plot Leah’s family’s ruin. With no other offers, she sets out to find the cure for the sickness in order to save her family. While she is searching, she falls for Daveed, the handsome household scribe who seeks to restore the glory of the Brotherhood, the elite group who guard the Library of Ugarit. Despite Daveed’s love for Leah, his vows prohibit their marriage, and a rift opens between them. As they pursue their separate goals, their paths cross again, and together they face overwhelming odds – including the Egyptian army – to save each other, their city, and Leah’s family.

With a story that’s vividly told with rich historical details, Barbara Wood brings Ugarit to life. Leah’s tale, as well as her grandmother’s, demonstrates that heroic women, no matter the time, can shape history. Wood puts her characters up against seemingly impossible odds and gives them the courage and ingenuity to overcome them. While it is essentially Leah’s story, I was particularly taken with Daveed and his devotion to and recognition of the power of writing and reading. For readers who enjoy delving into the deep past of civilization, this is a recommended read.