Thursday, April 10, 2008

Shadows on the Aegean by Suzanne Frank

From Publishers Weekly
The myth of Atlantis inspires the confident second novel in Frank's time-traveling romantic trilogy (after the popular Reflections in the Nile). Green-eyed Chloe Kingsley finds herself not in ancient Egypt, where the last novel ended, but on pre-classical Crete, inhabiting the body of an oracle headed for the doomed island of Aztlan. There she meets her soulmate and fellow time-traveler, Cheftu, now an Egyptian healer. Together, they experience a sensuous barbaric Minoan culture. Part Mary Renault, part Jacqueline Susann, Frank delights in re-imagining (sometimes pulpishly) lost rituals of love, power and religion, but she also finds moments of refreshing humor in the contrast between Chloe's modern sensibility and ancient manners. Longing for a cigarette or a bar of chocolate or a Diet Coke, Chloe is an easy heroine to sympathize with. Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, Chloe's nemesis now inhabits her body while Chloe's sister encounters ferocious magic in an unknown tomb. Fans will stay tuned.

Now that I’ve read the first two books in this series, I’m hooked, but not completely bowled over by it. I find the locale of the islands in the Aegean fascinating, and the ritual customs of the islanders repellent yet mesmerizing – I looked forward to reading this book every night and was surprised at how quickly I finished it. But, one of the problems with the book is it is very confusing at first. The reader is not sure what is going on and who is who. It’s not easy to keep track of the many priests and oracles and clan chiefs, much less who is “evil” and who is “good.” Before long it all makes sense, but it takes a while. The glossary and map in the front of the book help a little, but I wish it had been more detailed and said who was who (like the way Colleen McCullough does with her Man in Rome Series.)

This book is full of many different characters. I especially had trouble with the male characters and keeping them straight: Niko, Nestor, Dion, Pheobus, Who was gay? Who was the one that was supposed to inherit and kill his father? Who was the albino and what of the girl Niotne he rescued? Who was Nestor again and why was he important? Who was in love with their sister, and who had to have sex with their stepmother? The intrigue and various rituals became overwhelming, not to mention the characters in Egypt. Before long I knew who was who, but it was disconcerting at first, as well as trying to figure out who these people were and what their purpose was. The book jumped around a lot. One character in Egypt that Cheftu meets, (who’s name I can’t remember) winds up being a patriarch of Israel as is revealed to us in Cheftu’s last parting words to him. At one point in the story, the plot takes us to present day Egypt and Chloe’s sister’s world with the scheming priestess, RaEm (from Reflections in the Nile) in the body of Chloe, acting like a slut and not caring one bit how she looks or dresses. (We never see this part of the story again – a major loose thread, if you ask me!) It also took a while for me to figure out, (until Cheftu comes right out and says it) that instead of traveling forward in time from ancient Egypt during Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s reign, they’ve traveled back 400 years! Cheftu now must experience an even more uncivilized Egypt than last time, with Egypt suffering the poverty and starvation of an ongoing famine. Is this the same famine from Jacob and Joseph in Genesis? Throughout the book there are many biblical references, and by the end they are key to the plot. The God of the bible, God of the Israelites, is the anchor and salvation of many.

The best part of the last book, Reflections in the Nile, is the relationship between Chloe and Cheftu. In this one it’s not as intense and enjoyable. There are miscommunications and misunderstandings that cause some angst. Before they found each other again, I was driven to keep on reading until they meet. Their first meeting is a disappointment since Chloe isn’t even aware of meeting him – and yet she sleeps with him! This is the drawback of sharing a body with another. The owner of the body, an oracle, Sybilla, is the one that actually gets to be with Cheftu during a ritualistic night of sex and sacrifice. He is drawn to her, though does not realize why. At this point he thinks his wife, Chloe, is dead. Later on when Chloe is with him, (as Chloe, not Sybilla) the truth comes out. I was afraid this was going to cause a problem between them when she realizes he has slept with Sybilla. Her “Go to hell!” comment in English helps accomplish their reunion. Instead of causing angst, it made Cheftu realize he is with his beloved Chloe again – for whom else would say this to him in English? He races after her, they reunite, all is forgiven and it turned out to not be such a big deal. This happens a few times in the book. Later on, she’s under the misimpression that he’s gay or bi – silly girl! Sometimes I find Chloe’s modern way of thinking jarring amidst these ancient times. Wishing for a water bottle just seemed stupid to me, rather than amusing.

The 2nd half of the book entails the various volcanic explosions of the islands and the eventual demise of the Aztlan Islands (Atlantis) completely. How are Cheftu and Chloe going to survive and get away alive? It gets very exciting and at parts it was riveting and hard to put down. Not only are we aware that all of this will one day sink into the sea and oblivion, but we worry about this sore on his groin that Cheftu has, and what is it? Will Dion have his way with Cheftu? Not only that, but Mad Cow Disease seems to be running rampant due to the sacred cows and bulls of Apis that are worshipped by the Egyptians and Aztlans. Not only is Aztlan sinking, but all the leaders and priests (including Cheftu) have got Mad Cow Disease and holes in their brains!

Thank God for miracles – the elusive elixir of mortality! Stay tuned!


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