Written in a formal and leadenly abstract first person, this is the story of a young woman jeweler kidnapped from Rome by an ambassador from China and taken across the ""silk road"" through Samarkand and at last to China, where the ambassador wants her to use her god(Apollo)-given healing gift on the twin brother he knows from a vision to be ill. Mariana fails with his brother though she does save the life of the Chinese heir. While en route to China, however, Mariana's hatred for the Ambassador turns to friendship and ""desire""; then, living with his family in China, the two become lovers and marry, but his early death frees her to return home. The pair is reunited upon her death at 41 and will go on from there together, as in Nichols' 1976 novel of reincarnation Song of the Pearl. Early on the adolescent Mariana expresses some grave, girlish thoughts on time, death, and so on, which might well appeal to reflective readers her age. But instead of growing with experience she becomes cemented into a fictional world where all responses are stock ones and turgidly belabored, and the ossified prose reflects the staleness of vision behind it.