Woman of the Mountain by Angela Caperton
Extasy Books, 2010
Zenthe is the Earth Mother, the supreme Goddess of fertility and desire. Zenthe is also the volcano that towers over the far-flung lands of Corsinium, from the lush fields of Margate to the desert frontiers at Damtown. The dark waters of Zenthe’s Mirror, the bottomless lake that half-fills the crater, reflect the gleaming spires and halls of her centuries-old temple perched along the volcano’s rim. Within the temple, High Priestess Adita, the latest ever-young incarnation of Zenthe, presides over orgiastic rituals of fleshy bliss and waits for the one true Lover who will claim her forever. Adita struggles against loneliness, resisting the despair that has been the downfall of so many of her predecessors. Meanwhile, the rising power of a violent, paternalistic faith threatens to subjugate and destroy the Goddess and her people.
In Woman of the Mountain, Angela Caperton has created a vividly sensual world maintained by an intriguing mythos. Woman of the Mountain is about religion and sex. It is also concerned with the feminine, nurturing principle, contrasted with the masculine instinct to conquer. As I am personally fascinated the spiritual aspects of sex, I found Ms. Caperton’s thesis exciting. Unfortunately, she does not completely succeed in realizing the promise of her theme.
One problem (and I’m certain my readers will find this astonishing) is the fact that Woman of the Mountain includes too many sex scenes. Perhaps I should qualify this and say that the book contains too many scenes where the characters couple purely for immediate pleasure, without any deeper connection. In Zenthe’s world, sex should be a sacrament, but all too often, even among the folk of the temple, it seems to be no more than a recreation. Rarely is there a sense of reverence, a sense of communion in the flesh should sanctify Zenthe’s rites.
A second difficulty lies in the characters, who are generally too simple and one-sided to be realistic or to invite identification. Adita, in particular, seemed empty, a sketch of a woman who fills a necessary role in the plot but who never comes alive. Casmin, her loyal captain of the guard, has more depth, with his steadfast faith in the Goddess and his earthly but suppressed desire for Adita, but he is still the archetypal hero, with no flaws to make him real. The scheming, sexually opportunistic priestess Rivah was particularly disappointing. When we first meet her, she is an ambitious novice in Zenthe’s temple. There’s an almost childish glee in the manner with which she blackmails an older Priestess into granting her the boon of ordination. I was hoping that Rivah would prove to be a complex villain, or at least a powerful one. Ultimately, she turns out to be treacherous, but weak and uninteresting in her uninspired evil.
Perhaps the most successful character in this tale is Sul Tarkus, the prophet of the Father-God Kahmudj, leader of the hordes who lay siege to the holy mountain and the body of Adita. With his charisma and his fanatic certainty that he is the incarnation of his god, he is intensely believable (and indeed, familiar). When he finally stands face to face with Adita and is vanquished by his own doubts, the reader feels relief and joy, but also sympathy.
Woman of the Mountain is at its best in the scenes of high drama, when the mysteries of divine power are made manifest. When Sul Tarkus captures and opens the sacred floodgates on the River Sorrow, loosing the torrent to flow into the desert lands even as he dangles the sex-besotted Rivah above the abyss, I hardly dared to breath. I half-expected him to sacrifice her to his brutal god. I half-expected the power of Zenthe to rise in the traitorous priestess, calling her back to fulfill her long-ignored vows. When Sul Tarkus confronts Adita, alone at the pinnacle of Zenthe’s Needle, I knew that a miracle was imminent. And when the volcano/goddess belches lava and steam to fight off her attackers, I became a true a believer.
All in all, I found Woman of the Mountain diverting but disappointing. The grand themes of sexual union as a sacrament, of devotion and sacrifice to a higher power, of love as a force transcending death and time, rise in the background, but they are obscured, like Zenthe’s face behind its seductive veil. I have the sense that Ms. Caperton wanted to write a different book, a book of erotic mysteries that celebrates the magic of the flesh. Of course, her audience may prefer the book that she actually produced, full of saucy wenches and lively, superficial rolls in the hay. As for me, I regret the loss of the vision that I sense behind this book, the hints of transcendence that are, for the most part, unrealized.
Please note: This book won first prize for erotica in the prestigious EPIC ebook competition in 2007, when it was first released. So obviously not everyone agrees with me!