Book Review: The Virgin of the Wind Rose by Glen Craney

VirginoftheWindRoseAbout the Book

While investigating the murder of an American missionary in Ethiopia, rookie State Department lawyer Jaqueline Quartermane stumbles upon the infamous Templar Word Square, an ancient Latin puzzle that has eluded scholars for centuries. To her horror, she soon discovers the palindrome has been embedded with a cryptographic time bomb. Separated by half a millennium, two global conspiracies dovetail in this historical mystery-thriller to expose the world’s most explosive secret: the real identity and mission of Christopher Columbus.

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My Review

Part The Da Vinci Code, part Raiders of the Lost Ark this is a densely-plotted historical mystery. In fact, at times, it made this reader feel a bit dense as I struggled to keep up with the twists and turns of the intricate plot. This is a book that will demand all your concentration but repay that investment if you love a historical mystery that’s like a richly embroidered tapestry.

Alternating between the present day and 15th century Portugal (and beyond), each story has a distinctive style that means there’s no confusion with the frequent time shifts. However, this does mean that, at times, it felt a little like two different books melded together.

I really loved the story set in 15th century Portugal focused on Pero da Covilha who as a young man is inducted into the secret Knights of the Order of Christ, established by Henry the Navigator (known as the Old Man). After undergoing rigorous initiation tests, Pero and his comrades, Dias and Zarco, receive intensive tuition in cosmology and navigation by the stars and winds. The story is rich in historical detail and brought convincingly to life with walk-on parts for real historical figures such as Torquemada, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and Vasco da Gama. [The book is subtitled A Christopher Columbus Mystery but readers should be aware this character doesn’t appear until around two thirds of the way through the book.] Pero longs to go to sea like his comrades but is destined to remain on land using his facility with languages to fulfil secret missions for the Old Man. Although these missions will part him from his homeland, his friends and the love of his life, they will also involve him in one of the most momentous undertakings in history.

The story set in the present day is an archetypal conspiracy thriller that whisks you around the globe from Washington D.C. to Ethiopia, France, Nova Scotia, Ireland, Scotland, Rome and beyond as our protagonist, Jaqueline, tries to unravel the mystery. There are the obligatory action scenes, lucky escapes and fortuitous coincidences plus a name check for the participants in just about every historical conspiracy theory you can think of: the Knights Templar, the Masons, Prester John, the location of the Ark of the Covenant, and so on. [Self-deprecatingly the author references Umberto Eco’s ‘idiot test’ from Foucault’s Pendulum: ‘The lunatic is easily recognised.  Sooner or later, he brings up the Templars.’]

I admit I struggled to engage with Jaq as a character and found her extreme form of Biblical literalism and the whole End of Days stuff tied to a Muslim jihad a bit hard going. I’ll be honest as well and say I lost my way a few times with the cryptography elements. The conclusion of the book felt a little rushed but hats off to the author for the quite devastating ending.

The Virgin of the Wind Rose is clearly the product of a massive amount of research and if you love puzzles and cryptograms, like your historical mysteries rich in detail and complex in plot, then you will love this book.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author and chose to give an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Well-researched, intricate, action-packed

Try something similar…Sanctus by Simon Toyne

GlenCraneyAbout the Author

Glen Craney is a novelist, screenwriter, journalist, and lawyer. The Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences awarded him the Nicholl Fellowship prize for best new screenwriting. He is also a two-time indieBRAG Medallion Honoree, a Chaucer Award First-Place Winner for Historical Fiction set during the Middle Ages, and has three times been named a Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year Award Finalist. His debut novel, The Fire and the Light, was recognized as Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards and as an Honourable Mention winner for Foreword’s BOTYA in historical fiction. His novels have taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, to the Scotland of Robert Bruce, to Portugal during the Age of Discovery, to the trenches of France during World War I, and to the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. He lives in southern California.

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