Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace

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‘Oh, Lord, what is that?’
     Louisa, out in the fog with a pair of scissors, explored the soft obstruction with the toe of her show.  A rag, she decided.  A cloth dropped by Rosina from a window, back in the summer.  Stooping to pick it up, feeling for it on the brick path, she gasped.  The thing was warm under her fingertips.  She crouched down and peered though the vapour at a yellow beak, jet plumage around a glassy eye.  It was a blackbird.  Newly, beautifully, dead.
     The fog was sour on her tongue.  It tasted of iron and smoke mixed with a primeval dampness, made her eyes water and her cheeks sting.  Enveloped in the yellow cloud, Louisa could make out nothing.  Her own garden might have been a limitless place stretching to eternity in all directions or it might have shrunk to the very spot where she stood.
     All over London, birds had been dropping from the sky – thudding on to the leather roofs of carriages, falling down chimneys and splashing into lakes in the great parks under the gaze of statues.  Everyone said that they were an omen although there was no agreement on its meaning.  Louisa wouldn’t allow this one to be an omen.  She would rid them of it.
     Pulling on a glove from her pocket, she made herself pick up the bird.  It was light for its size, all feather and quill and claw.  Balancing it on her palm, she made her way along the path to the wall at the end of the garden and stretched out her arm to toss the corpse into the mews.  As she did so, she felt a scrabble of claws, sudden and intimate against her wrist.  The creature lurched, unfurled its wings like a black umbrella and vanished into the morning.
Published by Simon & Schuster on 1st August 2013
400 pages
Book Summary
The Egyptians had written their magic for the dead.  But Harriet wanted assistance now.  It was life she longed for…
Harriet Heron’s life is almost over before it has even begun.  At just twenty-three years of age, she is an invalid, over-protected and reclusive.  Before it is too late, she must escape the fog of Victorian London for a place where she can breathe.
Together with her devoted mother, Louisa, her God-fearing aunt, Yael, and a book of her own spells inspired by the Book of the Dead, Harriet travels to a land where the air is tinged with rose and gold and for the first time begins to experience what it is to live.  But a chance meeting on the voyage to Alexandria results in a dangerous friendship as Louisa’s long-buried past returns, in the form of someone determined to destroy her by preying upon her daughter.
As Harried journey towards a destiny no one could have foresee, her aunt Yael is caught up in an Egypt on the brink of revolt and her mother must confront the spectres of her own youth.
This is Wendy Wallace’s second book in a trilogy of Victorian novels.   Focusing on three very different women, she weaves an intricate tale of life, love and strength starting in London and culminating in Egypt.  The principal character is Louisa.  Suffering to breathe in the fog-filled air of London, she longs for change and begs her doctor to recommend that she go to Egypt, county of her dreams.  As this is the Victorian era, of course she cannot travel alone, so to accompany her are her mother and her aunt.  Both are very different people but agree to go with Louisa.
On the boat to Alexandria, we meet a whole host of characters who are to feature again later on in the story; newlyweds Mr and Mrs Cox, the dashing artist Eyre Soane and upon departure, a mysterious man with a piano.  Aunt Yael decides that she will not journey down the Nile with her sister-in-law and niece, so remains in Alexandria to do God’s work, leaving Harriet and Louisa to travel alone to Luxor.  
Wendy Wallace entwines the lives of these three very different women into this tale of discovery.  All three find a new purpose and sense of life outside the rigidity of their environment in Victorian London.  This is a tale of being able to escape from the binds that tie you, of being able to breathe fully and to take chances and risks that you may never have imagined before.  It is also a reminder that the past can sometimes come back to haunt you, with horrendous consequences.  
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, set in the beautiful country of Egypt which Wendy Wallace depicts so distinctly.  I liked the way that she manages to separate the stories of the three women, yet at the same time, keep them together.  I’m looking forward to the next chapter!

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