Myth, fiction and history are layered into a narrative edifice as impressive and impenetrable as the architecture the story celebrates.
In ancient Britain, the druid king Bladud vows to build a great stone temple to honor the healing waters of the goddess Sulis. In 18th-century Aquae Sulis, Zac Stoke is apprenticed to a mystically inclined architect obsessed with transforming the city. And in modern Bath, a troubled teenage girl takes the name Sulis, hoping to elude the terrifying specters from a past that haunts her. Told in alternating chapters with different typefaces and distinctive voices, each protagonist’s account echoes and intertwines with the others: Names, places, events, behavior, words, images—all repeat, reverberating back and forth through time. This is a dazzling literary exercise, constructed with careful precision with patterns and symbols, but it’s so precise and mannered that it repels emotional involvement. Spot illustrations do help illuminate many of these motifs, but readers unfamiliar with the history and architecture of the English city may still be left adrift. The personalities of the characters don’t help: Bladud is grandiloquent and obscure, Zac arrogant and contemptuous, and Sulis shuttered and paranoid. Their interactions with the eponymous stone circles help each to heal and grow, but the mechanism of this transformation remains frustratingly opaque.
Elegant, admirable and thought-provoking—but not, alas, engaging. (Historical fiction/suspense. 12-18)