Saturday, August 4, 2018

Silk And Song by Dana Stabenow

Johanna Wu is the granddaughter of the traveler Marco Polo.  When he left, he put his wife and daughter under the protection of the merchant Wu, his best friend.  Wu's son married Polo's daughter and their only child was Johanna.  Johanna grew up on the road, traveling with the caravans across the East, learning the value of silks and gems, paper and maps.  Along the way, the family grew when they rescued a boy, the only survivor of a massacre that killed both his parents.  Jaufre's father was an Englishman, a former Crusader and Knight Templar who now sold his services for protection along the trading routes. 

Johanna and Jaufre are left at a loss when their father, Wu, dies.  It is unlikely that they will be welcome in China without their father as their European features mark them as different.  They decide to go to Venice to see if Marco Polo yet lives.  Along the way, they add to their group of friends.  There is Johanna's stepsister, a wise woman and healer who knows plants and medicine.  A Mongol assassin joins their group when he falls in love with the stepsister.  There is a troubadour and a traveling religious man, both strays whom the group takes in.  Another former Templar joins the group and along with his Mongol counterpart, train the group in self-defense.  Two women from a harem are rescued by Johanna and join them.  Finally, when they reach Venice, Johanna adds a street urchin who is sold by her father. 

Together the group travels and trades, encountering friendship and base treachery along the road.  Johanna has an amazing white stallion that she races and who has never been beat and will only respond to her.  Will they find the answers they seek in Venice?  Could Marco Polo be alive after all these years and will he remember the wife and child he left behind in China?  What is the mystery of Jaufre's background that is hinted at by those they meet?

Dana Stabenow is known for her mysteries.  This historical novel is a departure but the reader will find the same robust storytelling that has made her a success in her more familiar genre.  The relationships are interesting and the various quests and dangers are compelling.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

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