Sunday, September 8, 2013

Claudia, Wife of Pontius Pilate by Diana Wallis Taylor

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: September 6, 2013

Claudia's life did not start easily. The illegitimate daughter of Julia, reviled and exiled daughter of Caesar Augustus, Claudia spends her childhood in a guarded villa with her mother and grandmother. When Tiberius, who hates Julia, takes the throne, Claudia is wrenched away from her mother to be brought up in the palace in Rome. The young woman is adrift-until she meets Lucius Pontius Pilate and becomes his wife. When Pilate is appointed Prefect of the troublesome territory of Judea, Claudia does what she has always done: she makes the best of it. But unrest is brewing on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, and Claudia will soon find herself and her beloved husband embroiled in controversy and rebellion. Might she find peace and rest in the teaching of the mysterious Jewish Rabbi everyone seems to be talking about? Readers will be whisked through marbled palaces, dusty marketplaces, and idyllic Italian villas as they follow the unlikely path of a woman who warrants only a passing mention in one of the Gospel accounts. Diana Wallis Taylor combines her impeccable research with her flair for drama and romance to craft a tale worthy of legend.

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Engraving, Claudia's Dream
I think I might have liked Diana Wallis Taylor's Claudia, Wife of Pontius Pilate if I favored Christian theme over historic detail, but at the end of the day I'm just not that kind of reader.

When I picked up this piece, I wanted to be transported into this time and place, to explore the intense conflict of human emotions that might have characterized this chapter of this woman's life, to see this particular story from a nontraditional point of view, but sadly, not one of these desires was fulfilled during my reading of Taylor's work.

Beginning to end I felt the author held back, never giving me enough detail to really picture Claudia's Jerusalem. The city is a dull and lifeless backdrop, the narrative never allowing the reader a real understanding of the city's complex energy and rhythms.

More disappointing though was the bland personality and passive nature of the story's heroine. Claudia perpetually goes through the motions, riding the waves rather than taking control and paddling in any given direction. She falls into her marriage as she falls into her faith and forgive me my opinion, but neither portrayal left me particularly convinced of her sincere devotion to either.

Perhaps I've been spoiled by the authentic portrayal of human emotion in Rebecca Kanner's Sinners and the Sea or the multifaceted world inhabited by Orson Card Card's Women of Genesis, but Taylor's work left me bored and uninspired. 

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"You are of royal blood, the granddaughter of an emperor. You must learn early in life to endure what comes your way. We, as women, have no other choice."
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