Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sarah, Son of God by Justine Saracen

Publisher:        Bold Strokes Books

Justine Saracen is a master at combining mystery and history.  She sets her characters in a real setting and time and then twists the facts gently to create a story that seems plausible.  She can also spin a tale so that the reader can't be sure where it's going to end.  In Sarah, Son of God Saracen takes a hint from Dan Brown and puts her own spin on the events around the founding of Christianity.

Joanna Valois is a Renaissance historian who receives a grant to go to Venice and research the circumstances surrounding a mysterious diary written by a woman who escaped from the Inquisition after publishing a "heretical" book.  Joanna wants to find out what happened to the woman and what exactly the nature of the book's heresy was.  She's joined in her search by Sara Falier, a beautiful transgendered woman, who has decided to live her life the way she chooses to and not according to how society dictates she should.  The women discover that the author of the diary made a very similar decision in her time.  They also discover that they are delving into information that powerful forces in Italy and the Roman Catholic Church would still like to keep hidden.  If they are able to discover all of the clues and reveal what the book hints at, the very foundations of Christianity will be shaken.  Even though the reader will know what Saracen proposes is extremely unlikely, there is the outside possibility that it could have happened.  She  creates an illusion and draws the reader into it.

Saracen has a real gift for creating intricate plots that flow smoothly through a book.  While they are sophisticated, they never leave the reader confused as to what is going on in the story.  The historic aspects of the novel teach lessons in the best way possible, painlessly.  While the reader thinks she's consuming a story, she's also learning a lot about the past.  Saracen also knows how to tease a story.   She hints at a mystery, then drops clues throughout, with a few red herrings, without revealing the solution until the end. 

The plot of Sarah, Son of God is especially interesting because it includes the story of Sara Falier, how she develops in her identity and the unique relationship that develops between her and Joanna.  That story alone would make an interesting book.  It's easy to forget that Sara still possesses a man's body because she conducts herself in every way as a woman and that's clearly also confusing to Joanna as she develops an attraction for the other woman.  Their story parallels nicely with the stories in the journal and the heretical book.  It poses interesting questions about how exactly a relationship of this type would progress.

Justine Saracen is an accomplished author.  She writes books that are deceptively simple, but never quite follow a predictable pattern.  Anyone looking for a quality book to read won't be disappointed with anything by Saracen, especially Sarah, Son of God.

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