Petra is an ancient city carved out of stone, hidden from the world for hundreds of years. In 106 A.D., it was about to be annexed to the mighty Roman Empire. It was a time of persecution of Christians throughout the Empire and in places, or palaces, where pagan gods were jealously guarded by people of power and influence. Petra was one such place. Queen Hagiru, high priestess of Dushara was one such person of power. Second wife of King Rabbel, Hagiru has produced a son Obadas, heir to the throne. When Cassia, a peasant girl from Damascus, arrives in Petra with the king’s grandson from his first marriage — Alexander, son of Aretas, son of Rabbel and Gamilath — all that Hagiru has worked for is threatened.
The story begins in Rome where we meet a young aristocrat named Julian. He and his parents, his father a powerful senator, all follow The Way, the name given to early followers of Jesus Christ. The Emperor Trajan has tolerated dissent and Christians in specific but Julian has become to vocal and several of his friends, including his fiancé have been taken to the Coliseum to be entertainment for the crowds. Julian blames himself and, to protect his family he tells himself, he runs. He runs to Petra.
When Aretas is killed by traders he has swindled, Cassia is left with very little besides the clothes on her back. In desperation, she clings to the few clues Aretras had given her about his past — his family had disowned him and he was from Petra, living near the Temple of al-‘Uzza. Summoning all her strength, she takes her son and leaves Damascus, joining a caravan heading for Petra to find safety with family — something she had really never known before. Attacked and robbed on arrival, she finds herself and Alexander tended by Malik, elder of The Way in Petra and two women, Zeta and Talya. When she discovers the true identity of Aretas, her troubles really begin and she will need all the friends she can find for evil fills the palace and will threaten her and her son both.
I’ve enjoyed other books by Tracy Higley set in and around this time period and in recent years it has become a dream of mine to visit Petra in Jordan, so this book was totally fascinating for me. In addition to an intricate plot and compelling characters, the strong faith of persecuted Christians, and the struggle between good and evil, Higley made Petra come alive in a richly visual way. You could follow Cassia down the streets that led to the temple and the palace. You could climb the hill to the flat height where sacrifices were made for festivals. And you could imagine Julian standing on a small ledge at a dizzying height carving façades in the sandstone cliffs. Higley has done thorough research both from books and from personal tours of all the areas in which she sets her story, and this is one that holds your attention from start to finish. Palace of Darkness is a thoroughly captivating historical fiction novel. * * * * *