Monday, August 19, 2013

My review of The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace

 'The Egyptians had written their magic for the dead. But Harriet wanted assistance now. It was life she longed for.'

Harriet Heron's life is almost over before it has even begun. At just twenty-three years of age, she is an invalid, over-protected and reclusive. Before it is too late, she must escape the fog of Victorian London for a place where she can breathe. 

Together with her devoted mother, Louisa, her god-fearing aunt, Yael, and a book of her own spells inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Harriet travels to a land where the air is tinged with rose and gold and for the first time begins to experience what it is to live. But a chance meeting on the voyage to Alexandria results in a dangerous friendship as Louisa's long-buried past returns, in the form of someone determined to destroy her by preying upon her daughter. 

As Harriet journeys towards a destiny no one could have foreseen, her aunt Yael is caught up in an Egypt on the brink of revolt and her mother must confront the spectres of her own youth.

 "What's best for me is to go away from here, Mother. To a place where I can breathe." 

"The fog made everything so quiet, as if all of life was being lived secretly."

"Her books were her medicine. It was her books that kept her alive."

This review is going to be one of the most challenging I've written. You see there are three intertwining storylines progressing throughout, 'The Sacred River' concerning three women mentioned in the description above: protagonist, Harriet Heron, the young innocent, invalid, her mother Louisa Heron who keeps a dangerous secret, and her sister and Harriet's Aunt Yael, whose storyline was the least fleshed out and the most less focused on. A very clever tool done by author, Wendy Wallace.  

It is hard for me not to go into lots of detail about the female characters and the men surrounding them but for the sake of no spoilers and because I believe every reader should keep the element of surprise when reading books in the style of 'The Sacred River,'  I will try my best to capture your attention without ruining much for you. Half of the fun is reading chapter after chapter and having those hand over your mouth 'aha' moments!!  

First off, I can't stress this enough, I gravitate towards and surround my imagination with novels taking place in the nineteenth century of England or the United Kingdom in general; I do love Scotland! I feel my heart swelling with that feeling of familiarity and the deepest longing for the desire to walk the cobbled streets of Knightsbridge, the West End and the East End of London. To feel the mist rise underneath my leathered laced-up boots, as I walk along a dark street lit up by gaslight. Oh, I'm getting carried away, again. Apologies.

Alright, to focus on The Sacred River means I should let you know that since Harriet and Louisa are mother and daughter, their storylines are the main focus of the novel and Aunt Yael is there with them in the background as a shoulder of support for Harriet and as a sister figure for Louisa. Though, she has troubles and problems of her own, I felt that her complete story was not fleshed out and it isn't until the end that the reader understands why. 

There are a numerous cast of characters including, The Heron Family, a few doctors, understandably as Harriet is an invalid in search of travelling to Eygpt to improve her health condition. Think Wings of the Dove with an Egyptian flare and you've almost got it!  The Sacred River is partly a love story, a story of a young woman finding her way in the world, and a story of freedom and love at all costs. 

"I was a sickly child, Mrs. Cox. From a young age, I read books. The ancient Egyptians, their writings and pictures, have been my consolation. They were for me what fairly tales were for other girls.

 I found the running theme and the main connection between these three women was not necessarily purely a search for freedom but a search for varied aspects of love that comes with the freedom to experience it.   For Harriet love depends upon her relationship with her family and the question of her health. For her mother, Louisa, her love story began in her youth and in her buried past but is connected with her daughter Harriet. As for Yael, well, her search for love may depend upon who she meets as she travels through Egypt with her family. 

The men in The Sacred River are crucial to the subplot and I was pleasantly surprised to find two of the men were nineteenth century painters! I just love it when there is a male character or character's who happens to be a painter. There begins my painter and muse fantasy! Enough of that though, back to The Sacred River. I found myself, reading through most of the chapters that take place in Egypt: Luxor, Alexandria and Cairo, thinking about all those gorgeous paintings by Sir Alma-Tadema. Every time tall, red headed sickly Harriet walked through the arid streets of Luxor, in her long Victorian dress, carrying her red leather journal in search of tombs and hieroglyphs, images of Alma-Tadema women Greek, Roman, and some Egyptian ran through my head. To me, Harriet Heron looked like this: 
Posies by Sir Alma-Tadema

and for Louisa's story, I kept picturing a tall, beautiful, pale skinned, jet black haired 'gypsy' type woman who might have captured the attention of a very interesting character, a painter named 'Augustus!'  I kept thinking Augustus Egg? Could it be? I'm not saying but when two storylines and Victorian women are in the presence of young male painters well color me happy!  I pictured a younger Louisa Heron looking like this: 
Phedra by Alexandre Cabanel (Louisa would be the brunette draped on the reclining bed) 

"She did not know where, apart from the floor, to look. Around the walls of the studio, on the floor or balanced on chairs, there were pictures of women. Women as she had never seen women before. From the back, from the side, from the front. Standing, seated or reclined. Draped with gauzy silks and chiffons, wisps of cloud or ribbons of mist that accentuated their nakedness rather than hid it."

I could go on for days about how much I truly loved and enjoyed 'The Sacred River but in fear of already saying too much, just know that Wendy Wallace writes with such beautiful descriptions that you will be enthralled with the storylines, the characters, the settings, and you will want to know what happens, what happened and why!  

Thank you Wendy Wallace for such an engaging and passionate novel. I look forward to your next novel and await it anxiously.

The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace was published in the United Kingdom on August 1, 2013. You can purchase it at AmazonUK


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