Apr/May 2002 Book Reviews


Jane Stevenson
Random House, (Feb 2002) 308 pages
ISBN: 0 09 928664 5

reviewed by Ann Skea

I am always deeply suspicious of authors who speak in tongues. Those who break into Latin, for example, make me wonder if they are arrogant, boastful, or simply naive about modern education. I was never very good at Latin and remember only about enough to half-translate an ancient tombstone, so chunks of Latin in a novel do not thrill me. And if the author translates it anyway, then what's the point?

Astraea has not only Latin but Dutch and Yoruba as well, so I was put off from the start. Judging by Jane Stevenson's acknowledgments, she has researched her story well, but I did not warm to her characters. Elizabeth of Bohemia, daughter of James I of England, is living in exile in The Netherlands. Omolojou/Pelagius, son of a deposed and executed King of the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, was sold into slavery, freed by a Dutchman in Batavia, and was being trained as a Protestant minister in Leyden until his patron summoned him to The Hague to help him complete a book on the plants of the Indies. On the death of his patron, Pelagius becomes a shamanic healer and, through this, he meets Elizabeth.

I have to admit that this is as far as I read (about half-way through the book) before deciding that the progress of their love-affair did not really interest me.

Reviewing is always subjective, and judging from a quotation from the Daily Telegraph which has been reprinted on the book's cover, those who enjoy the writing of Rose Tremaine will also enjoy Astraea. Since it is the first part of a trilogy, they will have much to look forward to. I wish them well, but it seems that our tastes differ.


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