Reimagined History: All but One

All but One is my unpublished debut novel, for which I’m now seeking representation.

All but One (108K words) features a strong female protagonist threatening the religious underpinnings of the Roman Empire when she shifts her worldview from a belief in many competing gods to one, and then takes her country with her. It’s an irreligious story inspired by my curiosity and disappointment reading Tolstoy’s account of his debauched character Pierre Bezukhov, whose conversion in War and Peace—the type of transformation that’s incredibly fascinating and complex—was documented in just a few pages.

In my story, first century Rome is marching. Cities and temples are falling. Despite a taboo against women rulers, the king of a fictitious country near the Black Sea gives his only daughter the education of a highborn boy. To help her father unite his infighting chieftains against the growing Roman threat, sixteen-year-old Andrada must prove herself as his chosen heir through the King’s Challenge. When she’s told not to enter an abandoned temple, should she obey the order or should she investigate further? Andrada violates the edict, but discovers a crystal bell in the sanctuary, and a wish made while ringing it comes true.

Andrada believes the bell is a conduit to a divine being’s ear and she begins to suspect the existence of a supreme god in a world of rival local deities. Her failure to stay away from the temple, however, is used to prove her unworthy to rule, and her father marries her off to a neighboring king who knows half as much about governing as she does. Devastated but still hoping to eventually rule, she moves abroad and starts making her mark—and new enemies. She dislikes her husband, falls in love with a medicine woman, and soon finds herself accused of murder by poison and sentenced to death. Meanwhile, the crystal bell continues to grant her wishes, but in unexpected ways, and her beliefs continue to shift as she fights to stay alive.

My novel is reminiscent of Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay and The Book of Esther by Emily Barton in its reimagining of history, but the origins of the story lie in my own Romanian childhood: In December 1989, my middle school recessed for the holidays with a portrait of President Nicolae Ceauşescu on the classroom wall. When school resumed after a bloody uprising, the large portrait of our now-dead dictator had been replaced with a small image of Jesus. At the time, I didn’t quite know who Jesus was, but I remember looking at that wall and thinking: Why do we need another portrait up there? Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with how beliefs are adopted and abandoned, which led me to write this fast-paced but character-driven drama in the vein of Ken Follett’s A Column of Fire.

My novel was a finalist in the 2017 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest and the 2017 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards. The opening chapter (under a different title) was published in August 2018 in The Write Launch.