An Italian archeologist and a dreamy scholar from New York cross paths and go on a journey through time in this riveting novel by Terry Stanfill. Trying to describe Realms of Gold is hard because this intricate tale is filled with not only detailed descriptions of Greek and Italian artifacts and the people who created them, but layer upon layer of complex characters, both past and present. Add to that Stanfill’s gorgeous writing style and you have a winning combination.
Bianca Caldwell writes articles for an art magazine, and gets her inspiration from dreams and visions. Giovanni Di Serlo is an Italian archeologist working on a secret dig in Puglia, Italy. They meet at a wedding in Venice, strike up a conversation, and realize how much they have in common. Bianca is taken with Giovanni and his erudite personality, but he is initially turned off by Bianca’s dour wardrobe and plain facial features. Nonetheless, they spend some time together in Venice and become friends over their common love of the past. It is the story of the Vix Krater, an immense bronze vessel on display in a French museum, that captivates both their imaginations and compels Bianca and Giovanni to delve deeper into its history.
Bianca returns to New York shortly after the wedding, but intense dreams and visions of a woman named Zatoria shake her so much that she arranges to meet Giovanni in Italy, hoping he can help her make sense of the disturbing images. The two begin a journey that follows the path of the Vix Krater from Southern Italy to Vix, France. With the help of Bianca’s startling intuition and the occasional trances that reveal more details about the Krater, Bianca and Giovanni uncover a connection between the Krater and the legend of King Arthur and the Holy Grail. And somewhere along the way, Giovanni begins to see Bianca in a different light and realizes that she is not only intelligent and creative, but beautiful as well.
What I loved most about this book was its atmospheric quality. Stanfill’s lyrical writing is perfectly suited to the historical information she is writing about. The story shifts back and forth from past to present with ease, as she gives the reader a solid picture of how the Vix Krater may have been created and the journey to its final resting place in France. Throughout the book is a strong sense of how stories transpose themselves over time and become legend. I was fascinated by the way Stanfill tied in the legends of King Arthur, Camelot and the Grail with the story of the Vix Krater (and you will just have to read the book for yourself to see what I’m talking about!) By interspersing photos and drawings of the objects and places mentioned in the book, the reader has a more visual sense of the history behind the words. And you may be surprised to discover the origins of the Starbucks logo, which Stanfill includes in her detailed story.
The characters of Bianca and Giovanni were vividly drawn and different from the usual characters I run across in my reading. I loved Bianca in particular. She is clearly an intelligent woman, but her extremely developed ability to intuit the past gives her character a magical quality. She is driven to discover the truth about the Krater and is genuinely excited by each discovery she makes. I also liked Giovanni, although I was a bit disturbed by his negative reaction to Bianca when they first meet. He is clearly not attracted to her, although you can tell he really wants to be. His disappointment in her appearance struck me as shallow, but perhaps the fact that he’s Italian had something to do with it. Still, I have to applaud the author for writing characters that don’t follow the norm of being instantly attracted to each other.
Stanfill chose to write her book in present tense, which I usually don’t like in novels. This time it works, however, and gives the narrative a sense of urgency. Although just about every element of the story was beautifully done, I did have an issue with some of the dialog, which seemed old-fashioned and stilted. I often felt like I was watching an old movie from the 40’s or 50’s, and while the banter between Bianca and Giovanni was charming, it didn’t always feel authentic. The author is obviously passionate about her subject matter and has done extensive research in order to write this book, but long passages about the history of the Krater bogged down the dialog after a while.
But these are only small complaints about a book that is intelligently written and not only takes the reader on an adventure of discovery, but poses interesting questions about the importance of intuition and the origin and transformation of myths and stories. You will need to read carefully to catch all of the minute details of the story, but it’s worth the effort. Realms of Gold delivers on so many levels and its dreamlike quality is bound to enchant even the most pragmatic of readers.
Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.