Guardian of the Flame (Book 3 in the Seven Wonders series)
by T. L. Higley
When I first heard that Christian fiction author T. L. Higley was writing a series of book centering on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, my first thought was “How do you work the Christian angle into a story that predates Christ and doesn’t directly involve Biblical figures?” The first two books of the series focused on the Colossus at Rhodes and Pyramids of Giza; this latest addition stars the Lighthouse at Alexandria.
The Guardian of the Lighthouse protects the ships steering in and out of the harbor from her perch high above the city. Yes, you read that correctly; the guardian is named Sophia, an educated woman who has held the position since the death of her husband many years ago. She is wealthy and powerful, a friend to the beautiful Queen Cleopatra, but instead of living in splendor Sophia hides at the top of her lighthouse, isolated from the rest of the world. When Julius Caesar and his Roman legion sweep into the city, Sophia is forced to accept a group of soldiers into the Lighthouse as her “guests.” They are led by the handsome Bellus, a soldier who fascinates Sophia because he is learned and witty, constantly refuting her belief that all Roman soldiers are brutish killers. Unfortunately, she’s already harboring several refugee scholars, who are working to complete the invention her husband created before he died. If they’re found, they’ll be killed or forced to work on machines of war for Caesar. As conflicting loyalties and her own desires wage within Sophia, the city of Alexandria also prepares for war as Julius Caesar and Cleopatra consolidate their power over the greatest nation of Egypt.
It took me a while to ease into the story, which jumps around the heads of its main narrators: Sophia, Cleopatra, and Bellus. In the beginning, their stories are connected – Sophia is Cleopatra’s former tutor, for example - but their lives don’t really overlap, and until these various plots start integrating the novel doesn’t flow smoothly. As Sophia is gradually pulled from her self-imposed isolation she becomes less of a tyrannical harpy, which is good because she is a REALLY difficult character for much of the book, making it hard to emphasize with her. Other characters remain distant throughout the novel. In the final chapters I didn’t feel like I had seen any change in Cleopatra’s character, for example, even though the political machinations around her would have surely affected her. The characters’ internal thoughts are often dry, but their interactions with each other were often fun. Sophia’s verbal sparring with Bellus, or her motherly grumbling with her servant Ares often led to some of the best scenes in the novel.
Overall, I’d say this is slow reading. It’s not a slow novel – stuff is constantly happening, what with political intrigue, secret inventions and bloodthirsty soldiers running everywhere – but the characters are constantly analyzing events, and I think this helps create the drag on the story.
Now that Christian angle I was so curious about was pretty forced. A Jewish scholar named Sosigenes introduces Sophia to the teachings of his One True God, which is fine and dandy. Sophia was a woman who sought knowledge, after all. But the historical inaccuracy of Sosigenes’ “Judaism” pretty much killed this story arc for me. To my knowledge conversion has never played a big role in Judaism, and certainly it would not have done so at this time in history, but Sosigenes is very actively proselytizing his faith. Instead of an honest depiction of an ancient conversion from pantheism to Judaism, we have anachronistic Christian conversion, which is a pity, because I would have been extremely interested in reading how a woman like Sophia would fit herself into the Jewish traditions of the day.
I love the idea of a book series revolving around the Seven Wonders. I did enjoy the book enough that I may pick up the other books in the series. If you are a Christian who likes romance and aren’t a stickler for historical accuracy I do think this would be a good book for you. (That may seem like a terribly narrow niche market, but there are a lot of women I know who fall into it.)
To read more about Guardian of the Flame, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.