5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
This book is a wonderfully plotted, concisely written, enthralling blend of adventure, romance, fantasy and (lots-of-creative-license-taken) history. It begins a bit slowly: our heroine Na’amah is a young, innocent girl who takes a bit of patience to get used to initially (she’s just that green and naive). But… and this is a big but… like a classical concerto, it really builds, and though the anticipated flood (the title does after all refer to Noah’s wife) is one of the climaxes, it is not the only highpoint — there are several, very well plotted twists throughout the novel. I thought it began fairly well (like I said, a little slow, but still very readable), built up rather quickly, and by the middle, I was thoroughly entranced. The characters Thorne has created here are wonderfully complex, layered, and memorable, and this is absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this past year.
You can tell from the above that I love this book, so I’ll start then with the few quibbles I have with it:
1. Na’amah starts as one of those girls who’s so innocent and naive you almost want to sit her down and give her a talk, or two, or three. The author explains the character creation in the appendices (spoilers below) and I’m not sure I totally love that explanation… but just know that Na’amah starts a little overly-innocent-naive, and that, despite this, men seem to want her, and you wonder, really? Is it just because she’s supposedly beautiful?
2. The title of this book is… I don’t know… You pick it up expecting a bit of Biblical fiction/romance/etc. but though Na’amah eventually claims the title of Noah’s wife as her identity, it is truly merely one of her many titles and characterizations throughout the book. And.. I think if you pick it up expecting more Biblical references, or some grand love story between Noah and Na’amah, you will be disappointed. Noah is clearly a starting inspiration, and though he’s a stalwart presence in the book, it’s much more about the author’s imagined landscape of that time and place: the religious battles (again, lots of creative license taken) between Father God, Hunter Clans, and Mother Earth/Priestesses, the culture clashes, different tribes, beliefs, and rituals (none of that is usually my thing, but it all worked well here). So… I felt as though the title of this book might make you pigeon-hole it a bit unjustly…
3. The beginning… really is just a bit slower, like the author is finding her way (as Na’amah grows). It’s not a terrible beginning, but it truly doesn’t live up to the action, attention to detail, twists and characterizations of the later pages. Otherwise, I loved this book. The romance in it, in some ways, is truly hard to classify because she’s written in a layered way about love that is hard to classify: familial love that is complicated by guilt and duty, the love between friends that can be both sexual and sexless, companionship, motherhood, love of animals (again, see the title of the book), and even truly forbidden love and lust. Yet this book is not a romance. Though you follow a young woman near the beginning, it’s also really not necessarily a young adult novel (spoilers below). It truly is a wonderful blend of many different genres, and though Na’amah grows on your steadily, it is probably some of the side characters, men who loved and hated her, villains who are multi-layered (which I love, love, love) and believably tortured and complex, that will stay with me, and draw me back for a second read.
So, in the appendices, the author says that she envisioned Na’amah has having Asperger’s disorder, and while I can see this (looking back retrospectively) I almost wish that I hadn’t read that — I liked it better when I felt that Na’amah was just a little more different and unique as opposed to having a particular label that I now have to question a little. Also… the reason I would not classify this as strictly YA is because of the rapes that take place, which may be difficult scenes for a younger audience.
Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
In many ways, this reminded me most of some of the fantasy novels I’ve read and enjoyed — even though it supposedly takes place in 5500 BC, it’s the author’s imagined version of that time period, and so we frequently have to pause the telling of the story (especially near the beginning) to explain things like: this marked him as Hunter Clan, this made him the heir according to our law, etc. I’ve read a lot of fantasy, so I don’t mind that, but it does slow down the flow of the story. I think books like the Jean M. Auel The Clan of the Cave Bear series are good comparisons, since they followed a younger female protagonist through an imagined historical landscape, though I always found those much, much slower and kind of weighted down by the sex scenes sometimes. More similar to Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, this is an enclosed story beginning to end (though you can almost guess the ending that it’s going towards) that kind of has its inspiration rooted in a personage that is a mere footnote in the Bible (though I have to admit I liked this better than The Red Tent, which I felt was a little more trapped/defined by that starting point).