April 2, 2013

Book Review: So Shines the Night - Plus an Interview with the Author!

Last fall I had the privilege of becoming part of author T.L. Higley's publicity team, The Caravan. (You can even see my name in the back of So Shines the Night, in the list of Tracy's Caravan members!) Tracy is an amazing author and I have been enjoying her work for years. I think what I love most about her novels is the way they make you feel like you've actually stepped back through time to whatever exotic location she has chosen - be it Egypt, Babylon, or in this case, Ephesus. When you finish reading one of her books, you feel like you've actually been there, breathed the dust of the streets, felt the sun on your face, and taken part in the story.
What reader doesn't want an experience like that? What writer doesn't want their work to have exactly the same effect on their readers?
So, in addition to today's book review, there's an extra special treat: an interview with Tracy herself! Hope you enjoy!

Author: Tracy L. Higley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: The Seven Wonders
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Pages: 395

Shortly after losing her job as a private tutor for a nobleman's daughter, the multilingual Daria finds work at a school in Rhodes. The arrangement doesn't last long, however. When Daria stumbles into the rites of a group of sorcerers, she's forced to flee for her life. A spur-of-the-moment offer from businessman Lucas Christopoulos to come with him to Ephesus seems the only escape.
Once in Ephesus, though, Daria realizes that maybe this wasn't a good idea... at all. The sorcery that drove her from Rhodes is even more rampant in Ephesus. The city is riddled with tension between the sects of Artemis-worshipers and a new, trouble-making religious sect known as Christians. Lucas is haunted by demons and darkness of his own. For Daria, who balances her instinctive desire to help with the rationale of looking out for her own security, the chance to keep her distance from evil and danger might be lost.

Though I will admit it was not as spectacular as Shadow of Colossus/Isle of Shadows or Guardian of the Flame (in all fairness, those are both extremely tough acts to follow), So Shines the Night was an awesome read. The story and characters had so many layers, all of which contributed to the realness of the book.
I've read about the Ephesian sorcerers and their conflicts with the early Christians plenty of times, but reading this book helped bring that to life in ways I hadn't thought about before - the anger of those who profit from the sale of spells and charms, the defensiveness of those whose dark powers give them political sway. This book really pulled me into that conflict and helped me think about it in real-life ways, ways I hadn't looked at it before. How would I feel, were I there in the midst of it? How would I feel if someone I loved was on the opposite side of the conflict from me? What would it have been like, how hard must it have been, to see a man like Paul, with the power to cast out demons, compared to the powers of the sorcerers? Had I been an Ephesian in those days, which side might I have chosen? How would I decide which power to believe in?
You've just gotta love a book that provokes that kind of thought, those kinds of questions.
Real biblical characters featured prominently in fictional stories tend to make me nervous - mostly because I'm a perfectionist and the thought that they might not be represented accurately is just about more than I can handle - so the biblical characters in So Shines the Night, Paul and Timothy especially, put me a little bit on edge. But, that's just a personal issue that most other people probably don't struggle with as much as I do.
And the plot twist at the end... oh my. Never saw it coming. Almost didn't recover.
There was a scene or two in the book that almost ventured within the borders of sappy-ness (and if you've been following this blog for any length of time, you'll know how I feel about that), but it wasn't bad. And Tracy also stated in the Author's Note that for a change of pace she had woven some elements of old Gothic-era romance literature into the story, so it was at least somewhat deliberate. And on the whole, the effect that those elements created in within the dark setting of sorcery-ridden Ephesus was very tantalizing. As a writer, I absolutely love that kind of creative ingenuity and experimentation, so I guess I can swallow a semi-sappy scene or two... if I have to. ; )
Seriously, if you're looking for a unique and exciting read, pick up So Shines the Night.

And now, that extra-special treat I promised! As part of promoting the launch of So Shines the Night, Tracy gave members of her Caravan the opportunity to ask a few interview questions to share with our blog readers. So here they are!

Mary: What can you tell us about the challenges of interweaving actual historical events with fictional ones?


It’s actually quite fun!  The historical events give me sort of “anchor points” for the story and help me structure the plot. Then I fill in around them with all the fun fictional stuff. I really enjoy it when the place and time give me lots of history to work with.

 Mary: As a fellow writer I know that every story seems to have one character who just captures your heart. Was there a character like that in So Shines the Night, and if so, who was it?


I think I might have had a little crush on Timothy, if you must know.  And Lucas, well, sigh.  I just had to rescue him.

Mary: What advice would you give other writers who want to bring their story settings to life and leave their readers feeling like they've been there?


Research is key, of course. Don’t skimp. You will end up with more than you can use, but you never know when a particular detail you’ve found will breathe life into a scene, or inspire a major plot point. Second, take time for the sensory. When you think about and make sure the page shows all the colors and sounds, tastes and smells, textures and feeling of a place, it will start to come alive.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Tracy! And of course, thanks for writing yet another wonderful story for all of us!

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