The action begins in a tomb in Etruria, a region of central Italy. Dressed as a man (women cannot be scribes), Larthia enters the tomb of her ancestor princess-priestess Larthia on orders from prince-priest Zilath, a magistrate for whom she secretly scribes. Zilath desecrates the tomb, but the honorable Larthia is blamed. Kidnapped and separated from her homeland and her family, she is exiled for years, journeying through other regions, including Phoenicia and Egypt. Many are drawn to Larthia; some scarcely hide their jealousy as various VIPs recognize her talent as a scribe. Enduring misery and defeat, she nevertheless expresses gratitude and patience, remaining self-aware and wary, inherently alone, eventually distrusting even the gods who seemingly abandoned her. Repeatedly, she pays for her abilities: “I knew too much, more than my place.” Pacing is brisk in this insightful narrative weighty with historical detail. In her misadventures, Larthia is raped, forced to become a courtesan and nearly murdered before ascending to service as a priestess. It’s an impressive arc that works on multiple levels, as Larth/Larthia/Etrusca (her various names) traverses land and sea, seemingly at everyone’s mercy, increasingly doubting her faith. She is used and misused, and her lengthy separation from her homeland drains her of vitality. Yet she is a feminist in the making—a woman of integrity, intelligence and presence who wishes to keep the secrets of her native land even as she is coerced into divulging them. It’s a clever conceit that allows for comparison of Etruscan ways with those of other cultures, including Rome and Egypt. A map of her cosmos is included.
A historically based survival tale of lost heritage, homelessness and empowerment that ably incorporates regional traditions, customs and commerce.