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A Beguiling Tale of One Young Girl's Journey - an Editorial Review of "Finding the Way"

Author Bio:

Cindy Burkart Maynard is passionate about history and the natural world. Her characters come to life showing the reader what it was like to live in another time and place. She is the author of two nonfiction works about the Colorado Plateau and the desert southwest. She currently splits her time between Longmont, CO and Tucson, AZ

"Soyala: Daughter of the Desert" is the author's most recent historical fiction. In this novel she weaves a compelling, dramatic story based on the pre-history of the desert Southwest. Winner of Colorado Authors League award for Western literature, and WILLA Finalist Award for soft cover fiction.

"Anastasia's Book of Days" is set in the Black Forest area of Southwest Germany in the seventeenth century. Based on the purported diaries of Anastasia Burkart, the author's great-great grandmother, the story reflects the momentous changes sweeping across her beloved Black Forest homeland. Winner of the Marie M. Irvine award for Literary Excellence.

Book Blurb:

Set in northern Spain in 1250 AD, the book tells the story of a Basque girl on the brink of adulthood and her quest to find a new life. She watches in horror as her mother is accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. She knows the angry mob is coming for her next. She is forced to run from the only life she has known, into a frightening future.

After her mother's torture and death Amika flees into the forest. At first, she is completely alone. She ekes out a living foraging for plants she recognizes from her mother's garden. An old woman, Ane, a devotee of the regional pre-christian tradition, rescues her and teaches her the "old ways" until they too are hunted down and jailed. Amika escapes but Ane does not.

Before Amika escapes Ane gives her an amulet to place at the foot of the Cruz de Ferro, the Iron Cross, a holy site along the Camino de Santiago. A sympathetic priest who remembers Amika's mother as a healer enables Amika to escape. As the price for her freedom, he gives her four amber stones, and the mission to find four lessons along the Way of Saint James to prove there is a benevolent God. Then she must deposit the stones at the foot of the Iron Cross and give thanks.

Amika undertakes a "hero's journey" to fulfill the mission both Ane and the priest have given her. The journey takes place along the Camino de Santiago, an 800-year-old pilgrimage route across northern Spain. She meets many fellow pilgrims and forms a deep relationship with a man and young girl. After are separated along the way Amika must begin a new life, pining for the man and the girl. In the end they are reunited and begin their life together.

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Editorial Review:

'Finding the Way' by Cindy Burkart Maynard is a beguiling tale of the long journey of a girl, little more than a child, to adulthood; a journey that at times is beset with difficulties and dangers. This often arduous passage is portrayed at times with a child-like clarity and innocence and the description of the Pilgrims' Way is at times almost bucolic. The writer herself made this five hundred mile journey from the Pyrenees of the French and Spanish border to the Shrine of Saint James, a place where great miracles were worked for deserving pilgrims at the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela. With the writer, we follow the path taken by the protagonist and heroine of this pleasing tale - Amika. As an observation, this Book would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of a map.

The year is 1250. Amika is a young girl from the Basque homelands, a place where Christianity still co-exists uneasily with the old gods who are still revered by many. Her father is dead and her mother is a simple woman, though well versed in the art of healing and of the curative powers of plants and flowers. For this gift she is harassed by the superstitious villagers and is finally burnt as a witch. Amika seeks refuge in the depth of the forest where she can hide undetected. She remains hidden for some time, foraging, half starved and freezing until she is discovered by an old woman called Ane. The old woman is adept at survival skills, wise in the ways of the natural world and a follower of the old ways and the old gods. Together, they survive through a bitter winter. Early on in the narrative the writer reveals what is clearly a deep love of nature and displays great flair in her descriptions of the flora and fauna of the region:

''They stopped at a spot where dwarf juniper sprawled along a tumble of rocks. A colourful clique of Bohemian waxwings gorging on juniper berries erupted from the bushes. Amika

straightened and flung her arms wide, drinking in the sharp, almost scentless winter air. Only the juniper's peppery odor spiced the clean breath of winter.''

Together they survive a bitter winter before Amika has two sightings of a giant mountain goat. Ane interprets this as a sign from the gods and she takes the young girl to a gathering of women gathered to worship the old gods and where Amika plays a major role in a ceremony celebrating the Solstice. Eventually zealous Christian witch hunters capture and imprison the two and Ane simply decides that her time is done and dies. Amika, for her part. is rescued by a guilt stricken Christian cleric who contrives her escape before she is convicted and burned as a witch. It is he who sets her on the path to Compostela, giving her four stones to place before the Iron Cross near to the city of Santiago, along with a small phial of Holy Oil with which to anoint those in need of it. There are, he informs her, four lessons she must learn on her journey to Santiago and adulthood. She keeps these safe, along with a moonstone that Ane had given her, the twin of one in the possession of a subsequent companion. The long journey has begun. This begins in Pamplona where she falls in with a company of a group of very benign Nuns of the order of Saint Claire on their way to a new convent at Estella. In fact, Amika must be almost unique in medieval travelling, certainly very blessed, in having companions who at the very least are non-threatening. Cindy Burkart Maynard displays her descriptive charm as the countryside slowly rolls past the pilgrims at their slow walking pace. It is clear that she is describing what she saw on her own journey and she has a fine and lyrical eye for scenery and locations:

''The sparkling river slipped in and out of view as the Way meandered west. Hills capped with oak, beech and pine alternated with valleys thick with juniper, rosemary and thyme. Flocks of sheep and cattle dotted lush hillsides. Along the river, narrow poplars ranked themselves in orderly rows like upward pointing spears of palace guards at attention. Vast vineyards stretched to the horizon.''

At the city of Burgos, Amika and Mateo, the possible romance interest of the book, are befriended by Samuel, a rich Jewish Merchant to whom they have returned an invaluable document he has accidentally lost. He repays them with kindness and lavish hospitality at the home of his relatives. The writer's descriptive talents come into play as she describes the architecture of their home; a location that in all likelihood she has herself carefully observed:

''A shallow, rectangular pond shimmered in the centre of the Courtyard. Unripe citrons dripped from branches competing for sunlight with sour green apples and persimmons. An elaborate colonnade of horseshoe-shaped Moorish arches shrouded the walkway around the patio. The unfamiliar smells, the exotic architecture, the sunlight glinting off the placid blue pool absorbed Amika's senses. She felt she had been transported to another world, a foreign world unlike anything she had ever seen.''

As she travels, Amika gathers together an impressive collection of fellow pilgrims, all on their way to Compostela. She travels towards the city of Burgos, now in the company of a young stone mason, Mateo, from the Andalusian town of Jaen. His hands have been seared with hot irons for the alleged crime of theft and he is seeking pardon from the Bishop of Santiago. At Burgos they are joined by a small group of Benedictine monks. Amika's gift for collecting suitable pilgrim companions does not fail her. In a violent rainstorm they encounter a little girl of seven, Esperanza, sheltering with the body of her recently deceased mother. Very soon the little girl is to prove, with her hidden voices, she has the gift of clairvoyancy, the second sight. On the way to San Esteban she encounters a haggard woman with a crippled young son in a wheelbarrow. They too are on the road to Compostela to seek a cure at the tomb of Saint James. The mother is called Soledad. Her name in English - 'solitary'; like that of Esperanza ['Hope'] is reminiscent of the names of people used as personifications that are encountered in Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress'. An itinerant musician is added to the mix. At the town of Ponferrada they approach the site of the Iron Cross on a mountain of stones left by previous pilgrims, the place where Amika has been instructed to leave her four stones. In the event, feeling that perhaps all her lessons have not been learned, she leaves only three. Returning down the treacherous surface of the site, she suffers a terrible accident, which means that she is not able to complete the journey to the Shrine at Compostela.

Ultimately, she and her little group are reunited; their various tasks and acts of penitence seemingly fulfilled and with a life of contentment appearing to stretch out before them. Amika too has learned the true significance of the stones she has carried all throughout her long, difficult and significant rite of passage. In this gentle little tale of the Middle Ages, Cindy Burkart Maynard paints a charming and lyrical vignette of an episode in the life of a young girl. She is to be congratulated in her achievement.


“Finding the Way” by Cindy Burkart Maynard received 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company.

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