Fiction debut from May (Passionate Pilgrim, 1993, etc.) makes an unlikely romantic heroine of Claudia, wife of the Roman magistrate who presided over the crucifixion.
By the reign of Tiberius, the Roman Empire was a widespread, multicultural bureaucracy, and it’s in this rich world that May sets her story. Claudia, a Roman patrician who is gifted with prophetic dreams, lives her early years in the provinces, from Gaul to Syria, as her father serves as second-in-command in her uncle Germanicus’s army. In Egypt, while still a young girl, she falls under the thrall of the cult of Isis. The Egyptian goddess, who in May’s vision espouses a kind of proto-feminist, free-thinking philosophy, becomes the driving force in Claudia’s life. Before long, May has her young heroine using Isis’s potent magic to snare the young centurion, Pontius Pilate. Through her Isis worship, she also meets a beautiful Galilean courtesan, Miriam of Magdala, for whom Claudia has visions of a great, though tragic, love. But neither the goddess’s spells nor her own psychic powers can save Claudia from heartache when she falls for a handsome gladiator and runs afoul of Tiberius’s domineering mother, Livia. As Claudia comes to understand the larger tragedy of the crucifixion, she tries to warn Pilate away from his role, to no avail. May’s background in psychic phenomenon and biography make her heroine sympathetic, despite the tendency to gush over gowns and men. Her great dramatic climax, however, cannot help but be overwrought, as Jesus returns with a New Age inspiration “of love and hope, a joyous knowing that we were as one in this moment.” May salvages her story by going one step further, back into her original human story, where she grants Claudia and Pilate reconciliation.
Suffers from an unlikely, sweetly sentimental conclusion, but May’s vivid settings, founded in research, make this quick read of a romantic adventure enjoyable.