Barbara Wood’s latest novel Sacred Ground is a complex tale of mystery, insight, and history, with strong characters both in the present and in the past. All aspects of the plot are involving, and if the suspense is lacking in some subplots, it’s more than adequate in others.
Dr. Erica Tyler is an archaeologist for the state of California, and a darn good one at that. All the same, she’s been buried away in unimportant, boring, low profile projects for months, in the hopes of waiting out the scandal caused by a very public mistake of hers a year ago. Now she finds herself in Topanga, at the heart of the biggest archaeological find in recent history, and she’ll do anything to protect it. Even do battle with her old nemesis, Jared Black.
Jared is a lawyer heavily involved with the Native American Heritage Commission, dedicated to protecting Indian burial sites from “desecration” by archaeologists. He’s also a man haunted by his own ghosts. They won’t let him rest,and they won’t let him stop fighting Erica at every turn.
As they dig deeper into the grave of the Primera Madre, the First Mother, the more clues they find to the Indian women who have held the old ways and memories safe for two thousand years. Through flashbacks, we see their lives and struggles, their loves and their beliefs. It speaks to Ms. Woods’ talent that their stories have the same urgency, if not more, as the plot unfolding in the present.
At about the time that Christ walked the earth, a woman named Marimi, of the Topaa people, angers the medicine woman of her clan and is cast out, along with a boy whose life she has saved by defying the wisdom of the tribe. Aided by her visions and her spirit guide, the Raven, Marimi and the boy survive, and travel to a new place, gathering more outsiders along the way, and come to form their own tribe, in the place they call Topaa-ngna, or Place of the Topaa. There, Marimi builds her village, the Clan of the Raven, and serves as their medicine woman until her death, where she is buried – as the First Mother.
Through her descendants, we see the arrival of the white man, first Spanish sailors, then Franciscan missionaries, then Spanish and Mexican rancheros, and finally gold miners. Still the Topaa honor the First Mother and the stories that have shaped their history and their lives, even as they are forced into Christianity, even as La Primera Madre becomes confused with the Virgin Mary. The children of Marimi remember.
Their stories are rich and have a sense of immediacy that is both enthralling and disturbing, since the stories can be violent and unpleasant. Yet the reader is never tempted to turn away from the fascinating tale. This an emotionally draining read, not easy or light, yet it is both enjoyable and worthwhile.
Sacred Ground is the seamless tapestry of rich colors and tales, woven by a master, and presented with elegance, and to its greatest effect. A page-turning, enthralling, and moving read not easily forgotten.