Hello readers! Today’s book review is of Tessa Afshar’s Thief of Corinth. This is the first book I have read by Afshar, although the covers of her books had previously caught my attention (seriously, her cover designer is amazing. Just look at a few on her Goodreads author page, if you have a spare minute). Still, I did not know much about her or her books, so I went into this with a pretty open mind.
Title: Thief of Corinth
Author: Tessa Afshar
Genre: Historical/Biblical Fiction (1st century)
Synopsis: First-century Corinth is a city teeming with commerce and charm. It’s also filled with danger and corruption—the perfect setting for Ariadne’s greatest adventure.
After years spent living with her mother and oppressive grandfather in Athens, Ariadne runs away to her father’s home in Corinth, only to discover the perilous secret that destroyed his marriage: though a Greek of high birth, Galenos is the infamous thief who has been robbing the city’s corrupt of their ill-gotten gains.
Desperate to keep him safe, Ariadne risks her good name, her freedom, and the love of the man she adores to become her father’s apprentice. As her unusual athletic ability leads her into dangerous exploits, Ariadne discovers that she secretly revels in playing with fire. But when the wrong person discovers their secret, Ariadne and her father find their future—and very lives—hanging in the balance.
When they befriend a Jewish rabbi named Paul, they realize that his radical message challenges everything they’ve fought to build, yet offers something neither dared hope for.
There is so much going on in this book. So many social issues, historical details, subplots…it’s a lot. Somehow, it all works together really well, but it can nearly be overwhelming at times. If this review seems a bit disorganized at times, this is why. Synthesizing all of the layers and coming up with a single stream of critique is challenging! But let’s jump in:
First of all, I did not like the beginning of the book. The sudden violence, discord, and fact that nothing lined up with the story I expected clashed into something stunning, but not positive. It did not help that Ariadne is not the kindest person at the beginning, and while I still felt sorry for her, I did not initially have much hope for enjoying her as a narrator.
Thankfully, I pushed past the first chapters and got to the meat of the story. Afshar creates stunning depth and a palpable natural atmosphere by including tons of details about first-century Greek and Roman culture. Through Ariadne, she gives enough explanation for certain social customs to make sense to the modern reader, but not so much that they feel like they’re sitting in a lecture. This aspect is probably my favorite thing about this book.
As the story progresses, we learn more about Ariadne and her eclectic family. Her actions and temper, while not excusable, become understood. Divorce, deceit, and sorrow have threaded poisoned roots through everyone in her family with no remedy in sight. The more Ariadne fights for control of her life and acceptance from those she loves, the more chaotic and tattered her life becomes. We watch her slowly spiral from one source of strife to another, her family falling farther apart the whole time.
This is not to say that everything in the story up to this point is depressing and dark. There are bright spots, they just are not substantial enough to have a lasting effect on Ariadne’s life. And, as much as I disliked her attitude and sharp tongue, there are times her wit is entertaining.
When one of Ariadne’s brothers invites over a friend named Paul (who is the apostle Paul from the Bible), things start to change. I enjoyed this final third of the story much more than the previous portions. As one person after another listens to and decides to follow Paul’s message and the God he talks about, Ariadne’s family begins to heal. Relationships are not simply glossed over, but truly treasured and restored. Afshar does a wonderful job portraying the power of the Gospel to transform lives. She alludes to passages from the Bible, and there are some discreet quotes, but I actually wished that there would have been more direct quotes. I do have a partial critique of Ariadne’s transformation, as she initially dislikes Paul and the way everyone listens to him so intently until suddenly she, too, is responding to his message. The shift in her attitude towards him and the Gospel is abrupt, and I question how realistic it is. It is not just her interaction with Paul that changes suddenly, though; Ariadne’s affection for the man she eventually marries also comes as a distinct switch from disinterest to love, with little time or explanation for her change of heart.
I strongly recommending Thief of Corinth first and foremost to fans of Biblical fiction and also those wanting to read historical fiction set in the first century (and Greece!). If you want to read about a (very) complicated family, a Robin Hood-like moral dilemma regarding stealing from the rich to help the poor, a sharp tongued protagonist, or fiction set in the Biblical New Testament, then Thief of Corinth is an excellent choice! There are some heavy topics, and the way they affect a person’s mind and heart are examined more than the acts or situations themselves. Be prepared to face some challenging topics, but don’t worry about being too worn down or reading anything graphic here.
There was a time when I wondered if I would ever finish this book. I eagerly started it shortly after receiving it (thanks again for hosting the giveaway, Audra!), but I didn’t really have the time to spend on it then. So it sat on my shelves, both physical and digital, staring at me for months as I picked up other books to fulfill promised reviews and Christmas-themed challenges. I finally made time to pick it back up a few days ago, and I am so glad that I did!
Do you have a favorite Biblical fiction author/book/series?
Until the next chapter,