Outskirts Press (2018)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (9/18)
Jeanne Blanchet’s “Cursed” is an epic historical account of Christianity’s strong entrance into Roman culture, and how religion came to be more absolute than the power of even the emperors.
Christian Princess Serena and a young priest and aspiring Bishop of Rome, Presbyter Theofilus, make up two of the principal characters in the cast. Serena is pampered and used to living a life of luxury. While her heart is often in the right place, she is easily misguided, however, by material aspirations and the beauty and allure of things, like jewelry. Presbyter Theofilus started out as a promising young military prospect but turned his sights on the Church when religious traditions in Rome became overrun by Christian teachings and power. What these two young people learned during their years, as did every other Roman citizen and intruder, was that Christianity’s power was to be stronger than anything else.
“Cursed” starts out strongly and is filled with rich details and obvious research. The terminology which the author inputs into the story represents long hours of academic study, which help produce an authentic picture of Rome in its final century. While the details remain strong throughout the novel, the pace staggers a bit as the story progresses. It seemed that the author’s aspirations for the novel almost became a little too broad. Whereas the synopsis of the book intimates at the book being about a young woman being evilly cursed by one of the remaining pagan priestesses, or Vestals, of Rome, and about Presbyter Theofilus’s journey to find the antique Palladium, these storylines become a little blurred.
While most of “Cursed” takes place toward the end of the 4th century CE, there are various chapters that almost randomly go back in time 30, 40, or 50 years. One contains details about the coming of the Goths, while another provides backstory on the current Bishop of Rome. While the historical details are strong, the context of why these chapters are included in the midst of the main story is lost. I think the too-broad aspirations and outlook for the plot ended up overshadowing the intended theme and main point of the book, albeit unintentionally.
I am not sure I would consider this a read for the general audience. The historical and technical terms may make the prose seem a little dense and hard to understand. I am a history student and an aspiring historian, so the inclusion of the historical facts was perfectly normal, easy to understand, and even exciting to me, but it may pose as a barrier for those who aren’t as historically inclined.
“Cursed” certainly shows a lot of promise as a work of heavily research historical fiction. The idea for the story is unique and captivating, and the characters are unique enough to make you want to know what happens to them by the end of the book. In the end, “Cursed” by Jeanne Blanchet is a great example to aspiring writers of how important structure, pacing, and context are in contributing to the overall understanding, execution, and package that is a novel.