Thursday, June 23, 2011
Review: Petra by T. L. Higley
Petra: City in Stone
By: T. L. Higley
Publisher: B&H Books
About the book:
She believed the city hidden in rock would protect her from the past - until it threatened to destroy her future.
Cassia, a destitute young woman in need of hope, seeks refuge for her little boy in Petra, home of his dead father's estranged family and capital of the flourishing Arabian empire. Surely this rock-carved city, hidden away between towering sandstone cliffs, can protect them from their pasat and provide for their future.
But the boy's father was not the man she believed, and when a murderous queen plots to take Cassia's son, her hopes of security are ripped away.
As the plot against the young Alexander unfolds, Cassia finds unexpected allies in the mysteriesou followers of The Way, who sacrifice everything to help Cassia rescue her son from the queen and her pagan gods. But it will take more than these new friends to save her son.
It will take a power beyond any Cassia has known - and a faith that can save a city.
Julian, a privileged son of Rome, fled his home and family when he failed to stop a new wave of persecution against Christians, costing him his betrothed and leaving his confidence in his faith and calling deeply shaken. Cassia abandoned the security of her home in Damascus following the death of her young son Alexander’s brutish father. Desperate to provide for her son, she makes her way to Petra, the great trading city cut out of stone, seeking Alexander’s estranged grandparents and the hope of a brighter future for her son. Cassia’s hopes for a fresh start in Petra are crushed when she earns the enmity of Petra’s powerful, malevolent queen, and her son is stripped from her arms. Left frightened and alone, Cassia is shocked to discover aide from an unexpected quarter – followers of The Way, a faith that subscribes to only one God, a strange people she’d been taught to distrust. Julian longs for the comforting escape of anonymity, but his empathy for Cassia’s plight and the dark spiritual forces at work in the city call him to take a stand. In the fight to save Alexander, the untried and the tested alike will face forces that will threaten the very existence of Petra’s fledgling church and the future of the city itself.
Petra is my first T. L. Higley novel, and it certainly won’t be my last. I love the fact that she sets her fiction in periods that do not seem to receive a great deal of attention in the current market. The ancient time period and exotic setting lend Cassia and Julian’s story an appealing flair of high stakes adventure and romance. It’s refreshing to read a novel set in ancient times that isn’t biblical fiction. Instead, Higley makes good use of the post-resurrection time period to explore the establishment of the early church, and the push and pull of how it functioned in a largely polytheistic world increasingly dedicated the persecution of “upstart” Christian believers. I loved how through the church fellowships Higley illustrated the critical role letters from leaders of the faith (i.e., Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, etc.) played in growing the church and encouraging often-vulnerable or reviled Christians to stand firm in their faith and witness to their communities.
Higley’s first “lost cities” novel is a fast-paced tale, liberally laced with adventure and spiritual truths. I felt like the narrative got a bit bogged down in the final fourth of the novel with the main characters’ “spiritual awakening” moments. While certainly critical and important to their character arcs, I felt like it stalled the forward momentum of the plot a bit longer than I would’ve preferred. That said, Higley does a superb job with the story’s sense of place and time and in crafting characters that really feel authentic to their time period, and timeless and relatable in their struggles and experiences. Cassia is a fantastic example of Higley’s character-crafting abilities – it would be all too easy to present her as a single mother, with modern views on women’s roles and independence, but Higley doesn’t fall into that trap. Cassia’s desire to be loved wars with a desperate need for independence and security birthed from years of victimization – a struggle that is relatable today, but believable within the ancient timeframe of Petra.
The entire time I was reading Petra, I was reminded of the Indiana Jones films. This is in no small part, I’m sure, due to the fact that Petra makes an appearance in The Last Crusade. But more than that, the timeless spirit of adventure that Higley imbues in every page of her story is what reminded me of Indy’s adventures. Higley clearly appreciates and relishes the adventure of faith, and that, coupled with a strong sense of time and place and fast-paced action makes Petra an absorbing, thoroughly entertaining read.