The story begins with Jess suffering a traumatic event. Jess is a teacher in a London sixth form college, one night she is assaulted by someone she knows. To escape the trauma of this event she goes to stay in her sister’s empty, remote Welsh cottage. But rather than find peace she finds she is being haunted by the spirit of first century AD, Welsh Princess Eigon. Eigon’s tribe was defeated by the Romans and she and her family taken captive. The two women are linked by their trauma and find a connection across the ages.
The story splits between – Jess’ tale: pursued and tormented by her attacker she flees to Rome where her sister is staying and while there tries to uncover more of Eigon’s history. Eigon’s tale: after first being mistreated by her captors she is taken to Rome where she is treated with more respect due to her station and kept in circumstances somewhere between honoured guest and important captive, her tale covers many years of her life and she becomes a healer then gets involved with early Christianity. The stories also cross with hauntings, possessions and characters from the past and present using séances and mediums to contact each other.
I really did not enjoy this book and was tempted many times to give up on it, although I did manage to struggle to the end. It’s a shame as I did like the concept of the story and quite enjoyed some of the early chapters but then, for me, it went off the rails for a number of reasons.
The first problem I had was that, when it came to dealing with the villain of the piece (I can’t say the name in case you want to read it as we don’t discover the identity of the baddie until a few chapters in) the behaviour of Jess and her friends did not seem believable for people living in modern Europe. When Jess is first attacked I can understand why she doesn’t go to the police, she is traumatised and also her memories of the attack are unclear as she had been drinking when she was hurt. I hope in her shoes that I would go to the police but I can understand why she doesn’t. But as the novel goes on her attacker reveals themselves beyond doubt, they stalk Jess, follow her across Europe, threaten to kill her, break into the places where she is staying and even physically attack her friends. Through all this Jess (and then her friends once they’ve witnessed the attacker’s behaviour) keep stressing that they can’t go to the police because there is no real ‘proof’, this goes on through the bulk of the novel until very near the end. I found it infuriating and more of a plot device from the author to enable the attacker to remain at large and a threat, than a realistic reflection of how real people might behave. I mean if I got home and found my house had been broken in to I would call the police, I wouldn’t start worrying that there was no proof as to who did the crime.
The next problem I had was the character of the second protagonist Eigon. Her plot is rather more interesting than Jess’ especially as she becomes involved with early Christians under the reign of Emperor Nero. We all know the story, the fire of Rome while he fiddles, innocents thrown to the lions – I mean you can’t get much more exciting than that! But the excitement was rather marred by Eigon’s incredibly dull personality. She’s just so good. There seem to be no chinks in her shiny armour. She is described as physically very beautiful, then she learns to become a healer and treats the poor without charge out of charity and goodness, she loves her parents and then becomes even lovelier once she becomes a Christian and is prepared to selflessly risk her life for others and their shared beliefs. It’s like reading the adventures of ‘Little Miss Perfect’ (yawn!) If she were real I’m sure she would have been a lovely lady and nice person to know but in fiction I need a bit of edge. She didn’t need to be an all out sinner but a few flaws to make her more interesting would have made reading her journey a little less tedious.
Overall I felt the novel was too long, the author had a nice idea but didn’t have a strong enough plot or interesting enough characters to hold a reader’s interest for 500+ pages. The best bit was the beginning when the reader isn’t sure if Jess is really seeing ghosts or just suffering delusions because of stress – indeed there is doubt as to if she was really attacked or if she was, by whom, could she actually be going a bit mad? But these doubts and creepy tensions are quickly abandoned in favour of pure and unconvincing melodrama.