As I mentioned before, as a reviewer you read two kinds of books: ones that you immediately know the rating of (whether that's good or bad) and books that you are conflicted about.
Damascena by Holly Payne is part of the second group of books. I finished it well over a month ago and sat down to write my review and just couldn't do it. Did I love it? Did I hate it? I actually didn't know how I felt about it, so I had to let it rest for a bit.
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. Inspiring and magical, the story of Damascena transmits the wisdom of the heart, inviting us to transform our pain into love
Plot and writing
I had to copy the Goodreads summary because it's so hard to decide what is a spoiler and what isn't, since the whole story is one big surprise after another. That's also the thing I liked about the plot: it was so original. I've never heard of Rumi before and was completely unfamiliar with his work, so I liked reading about his life and how it ties in with rose girl Damascena.
Damascena's life is followed in the story and I love the growth she undergoes from young girl to young woman. The insight in her personality and thoughts made complete sense and it was easy to connect to her as a narrator.
This is then combined with amazing writing. Like honestly truly amazing. Great descriptions, great characters and a great flow meant that this story was mostly a breeze to read, even with the heavy subject. Holly Payne is so talented and I can't wait to read more of her. Historical fiction is difficult, but I feel like her writing really lends itself to the genre.
However, though I feel like I love every separate element of the story, I didn't really connect to the whole of Damascena. And this is where it gets tricky, because I'm not sure why. Like I mentioned, the writing is superb and the characters are great. But I just didn't really like the story and I think it's because the plot is too spiritual for my liking. As I mentioned before, I enjoy stories that are grounded in reality and this was just too religious for me. The roses and God.... I don't buy that kind of stuff and I don't understand the strong connection Damascena feels to God. So even though I could relate to her as a character, I couldn't identify with her which made the story kind of boring towards the end. The plot kept me reading, but I just skimmed the religious parts at a certain point.
But, having said that, I still have to give this book a three out of five. The writing was some of the best writing I've read this year and I really appreciate the research the author had to do to write this story. I wish I could give it more, but it wasn't my kind of book. However, if you like historical fiction tied in with religion and spirituality, you'll fall in love with this book.