Vianvi Podcast Book Review 14 of 2017 by Viga Boland, Author & Reviewer
According to Jerry Waxler, a recognized authority on memoir writing, a book succeeds when it both entertains and enlightens or educates. While Ashes of a Madman by Maria York isn’t a memoir, it is fiction based on historical and cultural practices. As such, it is a mesmerizing, entertaining story that also educates and enlightens readers about past times in two cultures, British and African. The result? Ashes of a Madman succeeds beautifully.
In the 1870’s, the very beautiful, naive and virginal Rebecca accompanies her dashing and adventurous anthropologist husband, Lord Ramsay, into the depths of the African jungles. Yes, though married for 3 years already, Rebecca is still a virgin, and Lord Ramsay is hell-bent on making sure she stays that way until they reach a spot known as Pandora’s Peril. Why?
As the reader follows Rebecca’s journey, reflections, confusions and sexual frustration with her husband, who satisfies his own needs with other women, unanswered questions keep us turning the pages. What is Lord Ramsay doing? Why won’t he consummate the marriage? And what is the strange substance he and others put in their drinks that turns him into a violent, foul-mouthed man? What is he really searching for in Africa and what is Rebecca’s role in his search? Tension mounts with every chapter until the reason for the delayed consummation is revealed half-way through the story. That reason is brutal and abhorrent and tied up in an ancient African practice that nearly costs Rebecca her life and leaves her scarred mentally as well as physically.
But the story doesn’t end there. Rebecca does get back to England, minus her now despised husband, presumed dead. She learns to love again but her curiosity about what happened in Africa evolves into an even more absorbing mystery. Readers are once again turning pages and hoping she survives more heartache. No heroine ever more deserved a happy ending. But does she get it?
Maria York has created an very involved and well-researched story around Rebecca. She also uses Ashes of a Madman to explore still current and unresolved issues of gender equality, the consequences of domestic violence, and the devastating effects of drug abuse. Though the time setting for Ashes of a Madman is the 1800’s, the issues Rebecca has to deal with are those issues women and both sexes still face today. If indeed, Jerry Waxler is right that a good story should both entertain and enlighten, then Maria York has written a very good book indeed.
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