A woman living in Corinth around A.D. 50 loses a lover but finds another, along with a new faith.
In this historical novel, Whitley (Light to the Darkness, 2008, etc.) tells the story of Helena, a young woman who’s a ward of Claudia Sylvana, a wealthy, politically connected woman in a prosperous Roman province of “Greeks living in a Roman world.” Claudia’s husband, Gaius Marius, rapes Helena, and she discovers that he also apparently caused her father’s suicide due to a usurious loan. Helena plans revenge but finds Gaius already dead when she arrives to stab him. Fearing she’ll be wrongly accused, she leaves with her newfound friend Erastos, who hustles her to safety with the apostle Paul and his followers. Once a famous actor, Erastos falls for Helena, but she loves Ares, her childhood sweetheart. She receives news he’s drowned, but later learns that he was in fact enslaved and then freed on a deserted beach, where a group of Christians found him and nursed him back to health. Ares converts to Christianity, devoting his life to Jesus and Paul. Paul, meanwhile, is assailed by Jewish zealots and brought before a Roman court for his teachings, but Helena gets Claudia to pull some strings and he’s set free. Several more men attempt to rape Helena, but brave rescuers always save her. When she tries to sound out Ares on marriage, he explains he’s devoted his life to Christ. At loose ends spiritually and emotionally, Helena flees more unwanted amorous advances. After helping a family of poor itinerant farm workers, she sees the light, forgives all those who have transgressed against her, chooses a husband, and embraces a new religion. Whitley has written an unpretentious book that works as a love story on a couple of levels—of a woman losing one man’s love but finding another’s, and also of someone discovering the love of all humanity. Despite an occasional slip—what, for instance, is a “limpid hand”? —Whitley’s writing is clear and well-paced, and she draws a believable picture of her characters and life during the days of St. Paul. Her description of a dinner party in which the guests flatter their powerful Roman host, for instance, is dead on, and the unfolding tale of Helena’s predicaments and gradual resolution is convincing and sometimes poignant.
While its message may deter atheists and other skeptics, this novel should appeal to the religiously inclined and those interested in Christianity’s first stirrings.