"In each of the volumes, Mira has a different enemy, even if she doesn't always know it. I thought this was a masterful touch."
16th century / 21st century Europe
"1505: Pregnant and reunited with the love of her life, artist Mira survives a harrowing journey to the city of her dreams. But Bayonne is nothing like she imagined. Navigating a dangerous world ruled by merchants and bishops, she struggles to reignite her painting career. When an old enemy rises from the shadows, Mira’s life is thrown into chaos all over again—and she is faced with a shattering decision.
2016: Scholar Zari seizes the chance to return to Europe as a consultant for an art dealer. Overwhelmed by her job, she has little time to hunt for clues about Mira. But when art experts embrace a theory that Mira’s paintings are the work of a famous man, Zari must act. Racing against time, she travels to a windswept corner of Spain. What she discovers there solves the puzzle of Mira forever—and unlocks the secrets of Zari’s own past."
I've read Books 1 and 2 in this series (I believe there is also a prequel) and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey, for 'journey' is the theme here. Mira's story involves a great deal of physical travel, and so does Zari's as she seeks to unlock the secrets of the past. Both go on an emotional journey, too.
The main thing to enjoy about Ms Moroney's tale is the exquisite world-building. The 15th/16th-century setting is vividly described, with sights and sounds leaping off the page. The characters truly inhabit their world, and it's clear that the past has been well-researched. But the experts are experts too, and in the modern part of the story the art historians, academics and technicians are portrayed skilfully. I have no idea what goes on in the art world, but this was utterly convincing. So we have believable, authentic historical characters, realistic modern characters and then the piece de resistance - the links between the two worlds. There are plenty of 'aha' moments when we've seen something happen in Mira's world which Zari then discovers, 500 years later. And we, the reader, feel ever so slightly smug because we were sort of in on the secret. The plotting alone must have been an exhausting undertaking but it certainly paid off because the loose strands are gradually pulled together and the pacing is superb. In each of the volumes, Mira has a different enemy, even if she doesn't always know it. I thought this was a masterful touch. Danger has lurked throughout the whole series, but in each book it comes, or seems to come, from a different place.
I would recommend though that these books be read in order. While the background is explained in Books 2 and 3, I feel the reader really needs to meet the characters from the beginning fully to appreciate the whys and wherefores of the tale. It is hard to say more without spoilers, but I'd say that after reading Book 2 especially, you will want to read on. And after finishing A Place in the World I did wonder whether there was room for another volume, as for me the only slight downside was that I didn't feel that all the loose threads had been quite tied up.
I attended a lecture recently during which the speaker, a passionate archaeologist, said that at times in her life she had wanted to explore the past so much 'it hurt'. As an historian myself, I understand this. In this story, Zari feels the same way and because the author is so clever in immersing us in Mira's world I felt even more for Zari. There is a sadness, almost a nostalgia, which runs through the tale and particularly in this book, of a sense of wanting to touch the past, and the echoes that history makes. Ms Maroney captures all this brilliantly.
© Annie Whitehead
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