Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Healer of Carthage: A Novel by Lynne Gentry

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: September 17, 2013

A modern-day doctor gets trapped in third-century Carthage, Rome, where she uncovers buried secrets, confronts Christian persecution, and battles a deadly epidemic to save the man she loves. Dr. Lisbeth Hastings, a first-year resident, is summoned by her eccentric father to join him at his archaeological dig. She is hesitant to accept his invitation, but when a tragic mistake ends her medical career, Lisbeth decides the only way to redeem her failure is to care for her confused father. While exploring the haunting cave at her father’s dig, Lisbeth falls through a hidden hole and awakens to find herself the object of a slave bidding war! She tries to escape her captor, a wealthy Roman lawyer named Cyprian Thascius, and discovers that the city she remembers as ruins has somehow become brand-new. Who restored Carthage to a thriving metropolis? And if she is in the third century, how did this happen? Cyprian believes God called him to rescue the beautiful and strange woman being auctioned off as a slave. He doesn’t understand why saving the church of his newfound faith requires him to love a mysterious woman who seems determined to get him killed by her stubbornness. But who is he to question God? Their colliding worlds spark an intense attraction as Lisbeth and Cyprian soon find themselves united in a battle against a deadly epidemic. Together they confront Christian persecution, uncover buried secrets, and witness the beginnings of a medical revolution, but they fear Roman wrath will separate them forever. Will Lisbeth save the man she loves and the family she longs for—or will their separate worlds pull them apart forever?

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Have I mentioned I have a thing for pretty cover art? I'm pretty sure I have, but in case you've somehow missed this rather shallow aspect of my selection process, I am a self-proclaimed cover slut. For the record I'm well aware that you can't judge a book by its cover, but on the same note, my weakness has led me to sample several wonderful titles I might not have thought twice about otherwise. Case and point, Lynne Gentry's debut novel, Healer of Carthage.

My biggest concern going into this book related to the emphasis the description placed on Christianity. Religious fiction is well and good, I read and in fact enjoy a lot of it, but I can't deny experience has made me a little wary of the genre. I'm going to be criticized for saying this, I know because people just love to pass judgment, but the bottom line is that while I appreciate the subject matter, I don't like feeling as if I'm reading a sermon. Some readers prefer it when the message dominates a story, but I tend to favor those pieces that are a little more subtle, the ones that, like Healer of Carthage, work spirituality into the plot without overwhelming the narrative.

All things considered I was impressed at how Gentry approached faith in this piece but other aspects of the book caught me entirely off guard. For instance, I took more than a passing interest in her exploration of familial ties. I'd go on, but to do so would give away the plot so I'm sorry, you'll have to read the book to discover exactly what I'm getting at, but suffice it to say I was impressed with the complexity and depth Gentry achieved in her portrayal of the Hastings family. 

I also appreciated that Gentry wasn't intimidated by less agreeable subject matter. I didn't need a bloodbath or anything, but I knew going into this book that my enjoyment would hinge on whether or not Gentry could make Roman Carthage read authentically and while I personally might have liked more historical detail, I feel she managed this task fairly well. 

I wasn't entirely sold on the relationship between Lisbeth and Cyprian and the final chapters were a bit too drawn out for my taste, but otherwise I enjoyed the time I spent reading this book and will be interested to see where Gentry takes the story in the future. 

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Time travel was just an unsubstantiated theory. Michael Crichton beach-reads for the gullible. Santa Claus fantasies on par with the possibility of a supreme god. Science couldn't support these flimsy theories, and neither could she. In all her years exploring ruins, not once had Papa found a place like this... an inhabitable domicile that was actually inhabited. 
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