What an arresting title for a book! And at first, it does not disappoint. Author Terry Stanfill does a wonderful job of getting us interested in her protagonist Rose, a jewelry designer from California, who has an intuitive ‘gift’ for sensing the past.
This novel is Ms. Stanfill’s first, and unfortunately, that fact becomes more and more obvious as we read along. Like most beginners, Ms. Stanfill’s writing style is overblown and overwritten. There are too many places where she tells the reader what to think, rather than allowing them draw their own conclusions. (I refer to this problem in many of my other posts as “tells”.) The story becomes less and less real as wronged husbands and lovers veer from one emotion to another with bewildering suddenness. Only to forgive their Rose in the end.
But the biggest problem I had with this novel was with the plot lines. Having gotten me so interested in Rose and her 12th-century alter ego Rosamonde, I wanted to know what happened to her. But Rosamonde’s death from childbirth was only briefly mentioned, and Ms. Stanfill never told us what happened to her child. Which is strange, because surely the child, who was male, would have been a contender to the Sicilian throne since his father was William, King of Sicily.
But Ms. Stanfill allows herself to be distracted by the compelling character of Frederick II of Sicily, commonly known as Stupor Mundi, the wonder of the world. And it is true that this figure from history is powerfully magnetic. But if the story arc of the novel was going to end with this character, then why not set up the ending better? Why not start with his mother Constance, Queen of Sicily and flesh out the relationships she had with the men in her life, like Gregory of Viterbo, supposedly the real father of Frederick, and her brutish husband, Henry of Hohenstaufen?
The problem with this novel is that there are two different story lines, one about Rosamonde that has no ending, and one about Frederick Stupor Mundi, that has no beginning. It is true that Ms. Stanfill tried to fix the latter problem by giving us a frame about Frederick at the beginning of the novel. But it doesn’t work. I was still puzzled as to why the woman Rose was channeling was Rosamonde, who had nothing to do with Frederick, rather than his mother Constance.
The reason why this is so important, is because one has to give readers a satisfying, resounding ending to a novel. One doesn’t want to leave them puzzled, wondering what was going on. Because they are not likely to return when the next novel is published. As another reviewer of this novel put it: “I was glad when I was finally finished, and I will not be reading any more of this author’s books.”
Which is a pity.