The year is 1323 and this historical novel begins on a small island off of the coast of Cuba called Pearl Island. Tonina is twenty-one years old and lives with her Grandparents, but she is not related to them. When she was a baby she was found floating in a watertight basket by the islanders and has been raised among them. Unfortunately, as much as her foster Grandparents love her they cannot protect her from being ostracised from the rest of the group because of her differences. They are short and dark-skinned, she is tall with golden skin and light hair. She will never find a mate on the island where she is considered ugly. So, in order to encourage her to leave the island, her Grandmother makes up a quest and sends her in search of a mythical healing red flower.
Her journey will take her to mainland Central America and plunge her into the Mayan culture. She meets other travellers and forms friendships and bonds but always remembers her quest. Along with new friends and making some enemies, she travels in the ancient jungles and high mountains of Guatemala and Mexico. She survives many trials but along the way learns about her family and her heritage.
I found the descriptions of Mayan cities and people fascinating. The myths of the cultures of the time, as described in the book, bear a striking resemblance to Christianity. It was interesting to read that an early group of people, before the time of Columbus, had myths including a legendary bearded white man whom they belived would return at the time of their greatest need.
I really enjoyed this book, the first I have read by Barbara Wood. I look forward to reading more of her novels.
Woman of a Thousand Secrets will be published in September, 2008 by St. Martin's Griffin.
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