From the back cover: ‘Leira is starting her initiation as a priestess when her world is turned upside down. A violent earthquake leaves her home in pieces. And the goddess hasn’t finished with the island yet.’
1625 BCE (Before Common Era), the thriving Minoan civilisation of Crete extended out to the volcanic island of Thera. The earthquakes at this time were followed by one of the greatest volcanic eruptions in history. Wendy Orr tells an absorbing story of disaster and struggle for survival after a way of life disappears under rubble and ash.
My heart sings of it’s love for my land of steep cliffs
grey, brown and red; rocky hills where wild goats leap and swallows fly home to nest .. Ch. 7.
In the foreword, writer Wendy Orr describes her fascination with a fresco unearthed from the ruins by archaeologists. The fresco portrayed girls in ceremonial dress who picked crocus on the mountain. Who were they? And here is Wendy’s Orr’s lyrical story of who they might have been and what might have happened to them.
The house shakes like a dog wet from the sea. Ch. 2
In an hour of heaving earth, it is not only buildings that crumble. The privileges of young Leira’s noble birth turn also to dust. Though she has not yet finished the ritual Learning that will take her from girlhood to womanhood, Leira now by necessity grows up fast. There is no one but her to try and rescue her old nurse and injured mother from the collapsed house. She is the one who must obtainfood for her family, even haul water, once slave’s work.
This pain is true, we all feel it, we all see it, the gods have betrayed us and everything terrible is true. Ch. 6.
The author sets down much of this story in poetry. Perhaps some readers unaccustomed to a novel presented this way might feel nonplussed at first. I loved it. Hearing the lines in my head as I read was rather like hearing a minstrel sing a tale that had been passed down orally in memory and song. We are sung into Leira’s thoughts, her fears, and hopes, and especially her bewilderment and pain at the loss of her entire way of life.
I have always loved fine historical fiction that draws me into another era. Ancient times were simpler and brutal, yet in the right hands they can also seem to a reader to be exotic and timeless. I devoured the books of Rosemary Sutclife and Mary Renault. Now Wendy Orr brings us a vivid tale of Bronze Age life told through the life of a young woman driven to the extreme of her endurance, yet who in the midst of despair still lifts her voice in a song for the swallows.