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Book Review: Shadow of Colossus (Seven Wonders Series #1) by T.L. Higley

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Christian historical fiction tends to come in a few selected flavours: life as a Christian in the early New Testament church, life as a Christian in prominent historical periods in Western Europe and America, and the lives of prominent Bible personages regardless of testament period. Of course, there are a handful of exceptions to the standard categories, but I’ve never come across Christian historical fiction like T.L. Higley’s Seven Wonders series.

Higley’s series is set in pre-New Testament times, each tale intertwined with one of the Seven Wonders of the World; the first installment—Shadow of Colossus—takes place on the Greek island of Rhodes in 227 B.C. Into this pre-Christ setting Higley drops a fiery, wounded ice-princess of a heroine. Trapped in chains that seem inescapable and serving out a sentence as tenacious as that of any prison, Tessa of Delos has been in bondage for a decade. Held in high regard for her beauty, cutting wit, and political acumen, her services as courtesan are promised to the highest bidder in a process beyond her control. When her master dies unexpectedly, she glimpses an opportunity for freedom; with the help of a new servant Nikos, a man with a hidden past, she maneuvers treacherous waters in search of a way out.

Blending suspense, romance, political intrigue, and a healthy dose of drama, Higley brings the struggles, class differences, and pagan culture of ancient Greece to vivid life. Her attention to detail in recreating the historical and political climate is commendable, but what fascinates me most about this novel is the offer of freedom through salvation that is woven throughout a story that takes place in a pre-Christian culture. Tessa's physical bondage only serves to underscore her deeper need for spiritual freedom. Her encounters with the dispersed Jewish population of Rhodes throw the unrest of the city’s pagan population into sharp contrast with the peace and joy experienced by those who know God. This marker alone sets Higley’s novel apart from the majority of historicals. Pre-Christian history outside of the Middle East intertwined with the promise of hope and freedom for those looking towards the coming of their Messiah is entirely unique and enjoyable.

Also impressive is Higley’s careful planning which allows readers a deeply personal glimpse into Tessa’s life and heart, while entirely avoiding scenes which explicitly detail her lot in life. Though there’s no doubt that her role in Grecian society is sinful, yet socially accepted, and even expected in the upper echelons of her world, Higley manages to present an entirely chaste period of Tessa’s life.

Shadow of Colossus opens by diving directly into the crux of Tessa’s struggle, but the pace slows throughout the bulk of the novel. Her introspection, along with the web of political entanglements and maneuvering, prove a tempering influence to an otherwise tight timeline. Toward the book’s end, the pace builds exponentially into a pounding crescendo.

Strong characterization combined with rich historical detail have won Shadow of Colossus a home on my shelves of keepers. Though I rarely read a novel twice, Tessa’s story is one that I want to keep on hand for future plumbing. Higley’s work has certainly caught my eye, and I look forward to reading the stories she weaves around the remaining six Wonders of the World.

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