Zenobia – Birth of a Legend, by Russ Wallace, was brought to my attention by a writer friend who knew of my interest in history. I was eager for an opportunity to read it, as after the Middle Ages, ancient history is one of my favorite time periods to read about. I found Zenobia in Mr. Wallace’s book a highly sympathetic character that I wanted to find out more about. This book had me so intrigued with various historical threads that I kept pausing in my reading to zip over to Wikipedia (thank you, iPad!) to read more about the great library at Alexandria (including a list of ancient head librarians and an ancient cataloguing system that was not fully replaced until the 19th century Dewey Decimal System), the legends about Nimrod (which in turn led me to the fascinating legends about additional sons of the Biblical Noah, including the Greek Titans...who knew? LOL), etc. I felt my knowledge, as well as my enjoyment, vastly expanded by the time I reached the end. Which is not really the end, as this is the first in a series covering the life of this historical figure, Zenobia. (Zenobia – Birth of a Legend was provided to me free of charge by the author, but this in no way influenced this brief review.)
Mr. Wallace kindly agreed to an interview and has offered to give away a hard cover copy of Zenobia to one lucky reader of my blog. So stay tuned at the end of this interview to find out how you can enter for a chance to win!
JDP: Tell us a little about your historical novel, Zenobia – Birth of a Legend.
Russ: THE HISTORY: In the third century a girl of uncommon abilities was born in the desert wilderness of Syria. Rescued from death by her courageous mother, Zenobia masqueraded as a boy to stay alive.
Brilliant and beautiful, Zenobia developed into a military and political genius, the likes of which the world had never seen. When she gained sole control of the second most powerful army on earth, she set her sights on the greatest conquest of all -- Rome!
Book one in the series is a coming of age saga of Zenobia's life from age nine to fifteen. It sets the stage for her amazing rise to power.
By the way, the book just won an IPPY (Independent Publisher) Award for Historical Fiction, so the judges must have felt that the historical component was strong.
THE STORY: Young Zenobia dreams of becoming a warrior, a serious problem for a girl born into a male-dominated desert tribe. She has been forced to conceal her gender to preserve her life! Her deception is unmasked, leading to an incredible turn of events.
The deadly warrior skills that Zenobia develops prove their worth in several gripping encounters. She appears unaware of a legend beginning to grow about her.
Her wise mother envisions a different life for her daughter -- that of a scholar -- and takes her to Egypt for an education. Here a conflict of desires surges in Zenobia, for she finds that she loves both paths. As she feeds an emerging hunger for justice, the stirrings of a future political and strategic genius begin to manifest themselves.
Classes on critical thinking and law train the intellectual prowess of Zenobia, while other courses cultivate her social consciousness. For a time, her warrior world recedes into the background.
Growing into young womanhood, Zenobia feels an awakening attraction to two very different males -- a vibrant young warrior from her own tribe and a brilliant bachelor scholar whose analytical mind cannot resist the pull of the most intriguing female he has ever met.
Meanwhile, Zenobia learns of the annual horse race in Alexandria. She decides to enter her powerful mare against the highly-bred stallions of the East. The power of a legend influences the surprising course of the contest to its thundering conclusion.
JDP: What inspired you to write Zenobia?
Russ: To me, Zenobia is the most fascinating woman who ever lived and one of the most captivating figures in history. Here’s why: She survived a decree of infanticide and grew into a deadly, dynamic warrior of extraordinary beauty who spoke five languages. She marched with the regular troops, developing a tremendous rapport with her fellow warriors.
None of that, however, got her into the history books. Zenobia developed into a political and military genius, the like of which the world had never seen in a woman! At 27 years of age, she came into control of the second most powerful army in the world. From this base she enlisted brilliant associates to fulfill her dream – the conquest of Rome, the greatest empire in history.
The more I studied her story, the more it seduced me – I wanted to fill it in, to write it. I decided it would require a series of novels to do justice to her saga.
JDP: Zenobia is set in Syria in the 3rd Century? What did you find most fascinating about this setting and time period?
Russ: It was a time of upheaval, politically, intellectually, and religiously. Rome had a series of weak emperors, which brewed rebellions. A Parthian emperor, Shapur, invaded the eastern end of the Roman Empire and for the first (and only) time, the Roman emperor himself was captured. A radical rabbi from Palestine, Jesus of Nazareth, had turned the religious world upside down and his teachings were gaining momentum. Alexandria and Athens and Rome were the intellectual centers of the world, where some of the greatest minds of all time taught. Onto this scene strode a young girl who was destined to upstage them all, with the exception of Jesus.
JDP: I’m always interested in how authors research their historical novels. Could you tell us a little about how you researched the historical background for Zenobia?
Russ: I began with the internet, where there is a wealth of information. Next, I obtained books, like the history of Palmyra or Tadmor, where Zenobia came to rule as Queen, written by Richard Stoneman (Palmyra and Its Empire: Zenobia’s Revolt Against Rome).
Then I read fictionalized accounts of her life. When I first saw how many there were, I thought that I was entering the game too late. However, after reading some I realized that their view of Zenobia differed greatly from my own view. Finally, I secured some of the highly specific works about the era.
JDP: Can you share with us your top three favorite research books or other resources?
Russ: I used Wikipedia for a lot of basic research, but then I checked the information using other sources. I went to Google.com to locate specialized books on the period. And I read historical and fictional accounts of her life. Even the writers from her time do not agree on some important points, however.
JDP: Are there any historical figures, besides Zenobia herself, from the era who particularly intrigue you?
Russ: Without doubt, the top would be Cassius Dionysius Longinus. He had one of the most brilliant minds in history. Some called him a living encyclopedia, and he studied everything. I have him instructing Zenobia’s favorite class, Critical Thinking, in book one, but this may not have actually happened.
What is certain is that he became her top advisor when she became queen and de facto ruler of Tadmor. He joined her campaign to overthrow Rome, lending his formidable analytical powers to her political and strategic skills.
Most readers will enjoy the intellectual interplay between them, which really takes off in book two. He is intrigued by the toughness and brilliance of his beautiful pupil, while at the same time he fears her reckless daring puts her at risk. After Zenobia herself, Longinus was my favorite character to develop and work with.
Aurelian, the new Roman Emperor, is another great personality. A battle-hardened general of decades of military campaigns, he cannot believe that a woman thinks she can actually threaten Rome – until he meets her in war!
JDP: Are you working on any new projects?
Russ: Book two in the Zenobia series, Zenobia – Challenging the Legend will be released later this year.
JDP: Where can readers obtain copies of your books?
Geode Press: http://geodepress.com/
More about Russ! : Russ Wallace is a long-time student of history and religion. He employs a vivid imagination to fill in the life of Zenobia, a real historical figure and one of the most fascinating women who ever lived. He is working on future books in the Zenobia series.
Now for the giveaway! For a chance to win a hard cover copy of Zenobia – Birth of a Legend, all you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post with your email address so I can contact you if you win. If you forget to leave your email address, I’ll have to draw another winner, so don’t forget that part, it’s important. (If Blogger won’t let you leave a comment, you may email your entry to firstname.lastname@example.org.) Deadline to enter is August 8, 2012, midnight, PST. USA entries only, please.
NO PURCHASE NECESSARY
USA entries only
Entrants must be 18 years or older
Entries may be left in a comment or sent via email to email@example.com
Winners will be selected on August 8, 2012. Winners have 48 hours to respond to an email notifying them of their win.
Prizes not claimed within 48 hours will be reawarded
Sponsor name and contact info: Joyce DiPastena, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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