In Cottrell’s (Visions and Dreams, 2011, etc.) novel, lost scrolls tell the story of a Greek woman’s unwavering faith and rise to power.
Two college students discover 20 ancient scrolls, written by a Jewish man named Silvanus at a time when much of the world was under Roman rule. In them, he documents a range of political and cultural events in the first century, from the mundane to the extraordinary; his family acquires money and safety by running a guesthouse for Roman travelers, and they travel frequently to make money as traders “of all sorts.” Silvanus also devotes a good deal of space in his scrolls to the birth of Christianity. His family members are Jesus’ contemporaries, and they become converts and evangelists of the new religion. Silvanus’ plucky sister, Rachael, often takes center stage in the narrative as she grows into a scholar, preacher, and businesswoman. Her fearless nature, intelligence, and beauty eventually make her the most powerful woman in Greece, even as she remains devoted to her persecuted Christian faith. Rachael and the rest of Cottrell’s characters embody Jesus’ biblical declaration that “with God all things are possible,” and the novel seems to echo his characters’ evangelical mission, which will likely limit its appeal to Christian readers. Rachael is indeed a fascinating character. However, Cottrell offers no notes that separate fact from fiction or any background on his historical research; as a result, readers may wonder if Rachael is an actual historical figure or an analogue of one. The larger issue for readers, though, will be the book’s lack of narrative momentum. The novel reads very much like a journal, with no overarching tension or specific direction; as a result, the plot drags at times, particularly during long sequences depicting travel and trade. The abrupt ending, when the scrolls run out, leaves readers to guess at Silvanus’ and his family’s fates.
An unevenly paced historical novel aimed at a Christian audience.