Ana’s is a sheltered, privileged, life, but all is not well. Her parents live in separate mansions, on opposite sides of a river gorge. Ana, as go between, must carry their messages across the bridge that connects them.
I cannot recall when I first sensed the unspoken thing that mother kept from me, like an ache she passively resigned herself to. I thought my existence was to blame. The secret’s dark spell imprisoned me more than the walls surrounding Katun Court and mother’s mansion.
In fiction, a secret is a promise. Having planted it, Ana moves away, shows us scenes from her childhood in her fractured family, and tells us about the kingdom they live in. There are lyrical descriptions where personalities are developed and put into context:
…we travelled in all seasons. During winter months, the northern horizon of Kars and Estan was rimmed by snow caps resembling a parade of porcelain elephants…
I was strapped onto a pony so I could ride with him next to mother’s carriage along unbending roads through the rocky terrain of Kars. And onwards through the flatlands of Estan straight and gridded like a chessboard…
Mother was tense and irritable on these journeys. She preferred Nimrich, where narrow tracks circled copses ad lakes and riddled the ancient woodlands.
We are in an alternative reality. As the summary on the back of the novel puts it, the setting is mythical. Since myth includes all kinds of mystery the unfolding story is limitless, as Ana soon proves to be.
The formative years are soon past, and for her nineteenth birthday, Ana’s cousins arrive with an invite, ‘”Let’s climb the Gazal…” Among the mountains behind us, the Gazal was the most daunting…’ This will be her first adventure, demonstrating to herself, and us, her potential to face challenges and dangers.
After that, it’s only a matter of time before her dreams and questions lead to rebellion:
Something in me snapped. a force beyond caring compelled me to confront my father.
Ana sets out on her ‘odyssey’.
There are progressions and set-backs, some bleakly dark. The lone road is a place where Ana learns to distinguish between allies and foes, and to explore the meanings of love, friendship and betrayal.
This is a bildungsroman story, in other words, a journey that mirrors the ‘psychological and moral growth of the protagonist’. It would be tricky to tell you more of the way Ana’s story unfolds without presenting ‘spoilers’, so I’ll leave you with the Cambridge Dictionary definition for Odyssey: a long trip or period involving a lot of different and exciting activities, especially while searching for something.
Ashen says that she was inspired by 1001 Nights, and Ursula le Guin, and I can see how that has worked. There were moments when I recognised the influence of both, and more moments that were entirely Ashen Venema’s. It made an interesting and entertaining journey.
Ashen Venema is a poet, philosopher, writer, therapist, photographer. If you’d like to learn more about her, you might drop by her interesting blog, that is also called, Course of Mirrors, where she reflects on her experiences.