Written in the Ashes

Written by K. Hollan Van Zandt
Review by Nicole Evelina

This epic novel tells the story of Hannah, a Jewish shepherdess who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in Alexandria in the late 4th-early 5th century. The city is in a state of chaos between the zealous Christians and their Jewish and pagan neighbors, whom the Christians seek to destroy. Soon, this conflict reaches Hannah’s door, sweeping her up into an adventure that takes her from Alexandria’s Great Library and the Temple of Isis to the oracle of Delphi and deep into the Saharan desert on a quest to find a legendary relic that may secure peace amid growing violence.

I haven’t read a book that affected me this much since The Mists of Avalon, 20 years ago. Fans of that book will notice similarities in theme and in a few areas of plot. While the book is long, it is fast-paced, and the world is so well-drawn you won’t want to leave it for reality. The author spent 15 years doing research, and that is clear from the detail in every scene and how well-developed the characters and historical events are. All of this makes the inevitable ending all the more painful for the havoc it wreaks upon characters you’ve spent hours rooting for. Still, I never wanted it to end.

The only thing I didn’t like was the seemingly random use of the word “So.” in its own paragraph throughout the book. I think it was supposed to serve as a transition and mimic the way an oral story is told, but I found it jarring and interruptive. But that is of little consequence when compared to how brightly this book shines. I highly recommend it to fans of Alexandria or pagan spirituality and anyone who’d like a glimpse into what may have happened before the famous library burned.