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  • Writer's pictureJoan Fernandez

Zahara and the Lost Books of Light

By Joyce Yarrow

Time-traveling page turner.


This beautiful, impressive story is a potent mix. On the one hand it’s a suspenseful thriller—murder and betrayal dog the protagonist Alienor Crespo’s steps when she travels to Spain to claim a newly discovered citizenship. Yet, on the other hand, it’s a tingling supernatural mystery—for forbidden clues come to light when Alienor slides gracefully into the bodies of past relatives through time-travel. This combination of a trip to Spain and her mental travels to the past thrust Alienor squarely into the cross-hairs of a present-day murderous plot to destroy a secret library—and not just any collection of books--but the same rare religious texts her ancestors sequestered from the Inquisition. When present-day Alienor uncovers a plan to wipe out the rare religious works, she must confront the same enemies of blind ambition, greed and political power her ancestors outwitted.


In and of itself, this fast-paced page-turner is a fun read. Author Joyce Yarrow cleverly presents the time-traveling as totally plausible, even though it’s not quite explained. A handy list of ancestors at the front of the book helped me keep Alienor’s relationships with her dead relatives straight. And Yarrow’s evocative settings provide just enough illustration to bring each historical period (the Middle Ages, World War II, and Franco’s rule in Spain) to life without slowing the narrative. It’s an impressive example of thorough scholarly research being applied with grace.


But perhaps what I loved the most about this book is its factual foundation. The rare texts that fictional Alienor fights to preserve are from a true historical period called the Golden Age of La Convivencia (“the Co-existence”), when Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in harmony up until the fifteenth century. Imagine! Our world’s three major religions lived in peaceful co-existence. I can’t help but imagine…could it be a present possibility?


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