Note: I received a digital copy of Damascena from the publisher for review consideration.
Before I begin my review, here’s the summary sent to me by the publisher. It describes what happens in this story much better than I could:
Holly Payne’s spellbinding tale brings the unparalleled poet, Mevlana Rumi, to life, and transports readers to the enchanting world of 13th century Persia. Simply but elegantly told, the story unravels the mystery surrounding a legendary orphaned girl, who discovers her gift of turning roses into oil. Named after the flowering rosa damascena, the girl reluctantly assumes the role of a living saint for the miracles she performs-longing for the only one that matters: finding her mother. Deeply wounded by the separation since birth, Damascena undergoes a riveting transformation when she meets Rumi and finally discovers the secret of the rose. Imbued with rich historical research and inspired by the devastating disappearance of Rumi’s most lauded spiritual companion, Shams of Tabriz, Holly Payne has courageously opened herself to receive Rumi’s teachings and offer a timeless love story.
Set in Bulgaria and Persia in the 13th century, the focus of this story isn’t so much on the plot, but on the atmosphere. I don’t know much at all about Rumi or about mysticism or about Persia, but I loved the feeling I got from this book. It begins with Damascena’s birth in a monastery, and the mysterious scent of roses that surrounds her and her mother. Ivan, a young monk sent to the monastery in order to keep him from his lover, reluctantly cares for Damascena, but when his rage becomes overwhelming, twelve-year-old Damascena escapes to a nearby village. There, she is taught by the mysterious Shams to care for the roses which seem to be her birthright. She later returns to the monastery, but is soon sent, covered in burns, to Rumi in Persia. Damascena learns to be a dervish and finds peace among her roses, in her dancing as a dervish, and in a new friend.
While I was reading this book, I felt like there should have been more to the story. Damascena doesn’t do much; she just learns and hears poetry and tends to her roses. But after I finished reading, I couldn’t get the atmosphere out of my mind. I probably would have enjoyed this book more if I knew more about Rumi or Persia or mystic beliefs in the 13th century, but even with my lack of knowledge, the feeling of the book stuck with me. I don’t really know what else to say about this strange little book, but if you’re okay with taking on a book that’s low on action but packed with atmosphere and mysticism, you’ll definitely enjoy Damascena.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good