Annabel's book is clearly a very personal healing story but she only gives the bare facts of the terrible ordeals she and her daughter Sophia went through. Sophia was born with extreme health difficulties that required years of treatment and surgery. But this story is the wrapping, so to speak for the book and provides only a preface and epilogue. Her daughter's name and journey symbolise the historic journey of suffering retold in the book.
The main narrative unfolds in storyteller style; story within story, and a succession of narrators, the main one, Alessandro, being himself a 17th century storyteller. It concerns the "Burning Times" of inquisition and is set in Southern Italy. The tale of Alessandro, Rosa, Niccolo et al and the sadistic Bishop Pazzini sets out the battle between the Catholic Church and its attempts to control and destroy the "old ways" of healing and feminine power. Rosa is a local healer and wise-woman, maintaining worship of Sophia in a secret cave and chapel.
Aided by the local priest, the rural community gathers to celebrate the cycle of fertility and of the year combining old and new ways of worship. The Catholic Church has other ideas and Bishop Pazzini has his own greedy and violent agenda. The tale includes rape, spiteful accusation, torture and burning – the usual panoply of witch hunting pastimes we are all too familiar with. However this is a tale written by the “Indians” and one in which the Goddess worshippers triumph over the evildoers. The baddie is overthrown and with Sophia's guidance there are miraculous survivals. Female characters find and reclaim their power and the priestess line continues.
I cannot say it is the best written book I have ever read but as a first novel it is a worthy attempt. However it provides a great uplift for those of us trying to find redemption in those times and sets out the attitudes and thinking of the period by giving voice to our vanished ancestral sisters and brothers.
“The Serpent’s Tale” is published by Belashka Books and is available from their website.