All Althaia wants on her trip to Delphi is to fulfill her father’s last wish and enjoy time away from her tiresome new husband. Finding the body of a young woman on the altar of Dionysos in the theater of the Sacred Precinct on her first day in town is not in her plans. Neither is getting involved in the search for the killer, falling for the son of a famous priestess, or getting pulled into the ancient struggle for control of the two most powerful oracles in the world. But that’s exactly what happens when Theron, Althaia’s tutor and a man with a reputation for finding the truth, is asked to investigate. When a priest hints that Theron himself may be involved, Althaia is certain the old man is crazy-until Nikomachos, son of the famous priestess of Dodona, arrives with an urgent message. As Theron’s past, greedy priests, paranoid priestesses, visions, prophecies, and stolen treasures complicate the investigation, Althaia finds herself falling for Nikomachos whose dangerous secrets may hold the key to the young woman’s death. When another body is found and Althaia discovers Nikomachos is being blackmailed, she devises a plan to coerce the killer to reveal himself and, in the process, forces Nikomachos to confront his own past. As the plan unfolds, she comes to realize that love often comes at a high price and that the true meaning of family is more than a blood bond.
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]
I have to admit that I’m not usually one for murder mysteries set in ancient times. They always seemed a little bit cheesy to me, with the investigators using modern techniques that the ancients really did not use. However, I thought Oracles of Delphi sounded pretty cool and was worth a try. Good thing I did because I would have missed out on a pretty good book if I hadn’t.
Althaia is a fascinating character. She’s a woman in Athens, so of course she’s essentially property, but she does have a significant amount of wealth thanks to her father. That allows her the freedom to travel to Delphi, where there’s a little more freedom for women (not that it would take much compared to Athens). There in Delphi she discovers that the Oracles of Apollon and Gaia are competing for supremacy and Apollon’s have been kicking butt for the past hundred or so years. But what was supposed to be a pilgrimage a year after her father’s death turns into a murder investigation when the naked body of a priestess of Gaia shows up on Apollon’s altar.
One of the things that made Althaia really stick out to me was the complexity of her character. She’s intelligent and thoughtful but at the same time can be blinded by her own privilege to the suffering of people around her. This is showcased especially well through the eyes of her personal slave, Nepthys when the book changes points of view. Althaia uses this intelligence to perform an autopias on the body, discovering the cause of death and getting a little closer to the murderer. She’s had an unconventional childhood thanks to her father’s enlightened views so it’s interesting to see her more modern views warring with the increasingly patriarchal society around her.
Speaking of that Marie Savage did a very in-depth study of the Greek world of the time. She posits that this is the time when worship moved away from the goddesses and the gods suddenly reigned supreme. The Oracle of Apollon gained more power while the old Oracle of Gaia lost all of hers. It’s an interesting time of change in the Greek world and I’m so glad that Savage chose to set her novel during this time; it just wouldn’t be nearly as good without the societal conflicts. Add to that the fact that a certain King Philip is reigning in what we know as Macedon and you’ve got yourself a well-researched book where no matter your knowledge of the ancient Greeks, you can at least be familiar with some elements.
The plot is not as fast-paced as that of a modern murder mystery, but it is still fast-paced enough that you won’t want to put it down. Marie Savage managed to slowly ratchet up the tension as the book went along, without all the normal drag in the middle, so you truly will want to make this a one-sitting book. Enemies are around every corner and truly nothing is as it seems in Delphi at the time. Add in just a couple interesting subplots with the main characters and you’ve got a pretty darn good book. I really just can’t recommend it enough if you love either ancient history or murder mysteries.
I give this book 5/5 stars.