For 500 years, the once powerful Order of the Sibylline has kept the identity of its future prophetess hidden in the most famous painting in the world. Amid the chaos of post-World War II France, one woman discovers their ancient secret and its ability to transform a fragmented world.
Intricately plotted, Woman on the Wall by debut author Robin Rivers [ISBN: 978-1778135729; $18; September 2022] is a fast-paced historical fantasy set in Paris and Amboise, France in 1519 and 1945. It honors the Sibylline as so much more than ancient myth and celebrates their place in every woman’s journey to self-discovery.
The first book in the six-part series The Sibylline Chronicles, Woman on the Wall is an entrancing tale revealing the fate of two extraordinary women risking their lives to secure the future of humanity–five centuries apart. This rich alternate history binds a brilliant, devoted, and driven paleographer and a brave, bold, and potent prophetess beyond time, each fighting to restore sight to a world blinded by the power and control of men.
After 480 days as a Nazi political prisoner, Dr. Marie Guerrant returns to Paris to repatriate the Mona Lisa and find her daughter. When a British Colonel arrives claiming he needs her French Resistance connections to find the lost painting, which she helped hide seven years earlier, distrust is high. Tipped off about her daughter’s involvement and the Colonel’s obsessive belief that the Mona Lisa contains the identity of a modern-day Sibyl prophetess, Marie must risk her life to save her daughter and the masterpiece from men consumed by controlling destiny.
Five centuries prior… On the eve of rising as the Sibyl of Amboise, Aesmeh de la Rose must rely on her visions to find Leonardo da Vinci after he and the Mona Lisa disappear from his workshop at Clos Lucé. The precious painting and its creator cannot be lost or the ancient Sibylline Order faces extermination after more than 1000 years of rebuilding their powerful matriarchy.
Torn between duty and love, Aesmeh must tap into an ancient alchemy in a race to keep the Order safe. But, an unspeakable betrayal forces her to make an unfathomable choice to secure the future of the Sibylline. With the fate of the world resting on their courage to reclaim the ancient feminine powers of the Sibylline, Woman on the Wall is a sweeping fantastical tale of intrigue and hope for us all.
Fast-paced prose with vivid narrative, Woman on the Wall is perfect for readers who loved Kate Quinn’s recent novels, The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and The Eight by Katherine Neville.
As an international award-winning former journalist, Robin Rivers now helps young writers learn the craft as the CEO of Quill Academy of Creative Writing. Combining her quick and direct journalistic writing with a thriller tone and pace, Rivers crafts a story celebrating the romance and beauty of the historical feminine. “The ancient Sibyls have been my obsession for the last decade of my life. Once their stories and the stories of other women from their time started to dominate my learning, they never let go. I went to France in 2019 to flesh out this story and had a life-changing experience that led to this novel,” Rivers says. “The fantastical world of the Sibylline interwoven with actual history is what sets it apart from others in the genre. You too could go to France and actually stand in every setting I’ve used in the novel, imagining the Sibylline as a part of it all.”
Robin Rivers is an award-winning writer who guides young authors as CEO of Quill Academy of Creative Writing. She has always been fascinated with stories of lost times and nerds out in the realm of all things historical, fantastical, female, and mythological. As a result, she spends her days in a literary universe best described as slipstream — a mix of historical, magical realism, and haunting romance. Robin lives with her husband, daughters, and their sphynx cat Hypatia on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and TsleilWaututh Nations in Vancouver, Canada. Woman On The Wall is her debut novel. Stay up to date on The Sibylline Chronicles at thesibyllinechronicles.com and follow Robin on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Excerpted from Woman On The Wall by Robin Rivers. Copyright © 2022 Robin Rivers. Reprinted with permission from Robin Rivers. Vancouver, BC, Canada. All rights reserved.
MAY 2, 1519
How awkward this must be to have a dead woman about to declare the direction of your life. It is unclear to me, even at this crucial moment, how I should address you. Alas, as time can no longer keep us apart, let us dispense with being strangers and begin.
I am the Sibyl of Amboise.
I died here.
You have arrived in this tiny commune because of a five-hundred-year-old pact to find you and bring you home.
As I write these words, I wonder what you know of my kind. Do you know the names Hypatia and Lubna? Does history speak of Shushandukht and Shajar al-Durr? Or, are the Sibyls little more than mythological prophetesses painted upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? In truth, we are ancient, once powerful, and nearly vanished.
Born of the Great Mother’s very womb, each Sibyl’s sight gave men a glimpse of what might come. We predicted wars, warned against the rise of tyrants, shed light upon the fates of many. In the great capitals of Badari, Olmec, Xi, Khemet, the Jiroft, even the wilds of Scythia, we served humanity for more than eleven thousand years. And, then . . .
What do you know, Dear One? It pains me. What kind of world did my failures leave you? In the glimmers of your time, I saw only fire and death. Without the Sibyl, men know not the cost of their acts. Power is a seductive demon. Have I left you with the tyrants?
I must assume the world is well enough that Sister Maurine stands at your side in fulfillment of her vow. My regret is not being there beside you as well.
You are the hope of the Sibylline. I once was that hope, the first to complete training and enter the temple in more than one thousand years. Such care was taken to protect me. However, a malicious enemy lived amongst us. By the time I knew, my throat was nearly slit. It lays upon you now to do what I never fully could—to rise and serve the world.
Yes, Dear One, your coming has been foretold for five centuries. In those fifty decades, such knowledge has hung in the halls of the men who thought us eradicated. They celebrated that sublime smile, all without the fortune of knowing whom they kept safe. You are the oracle they could never burn, lying in state until this very moment.
Listen, Dear One.
Listen without fear.
Your life is an amalgamation of so many others. As you gain the sight, Amboise will return our memories to you. You shall reclaim them as your own. You may feel as if you have gone mad. Know that you are coming alive. This is where your service begins.
In the moments to come, others will attempt to strip your sovereignty. Such war is inevitable. You must prepare for it. Train. Fight as a warrior. Remain devoted to your purpose alone. Do not concede.
Then, call the Sibylline to your side. Step beyond the seven bridges of paradise and into hell in the forest beyond Gaillard. There, in the temple of the Sibylline, you shall rise and take my place at Amboise. That you might watch over humankind in beauty and justice as the Great Mothers before you intended.
Eternally in your service,
Aesmeh de la Rose
Robin Rivers Blog Tour Q&A
Robin Rivers is an award-winning writer who guides young authors as CEO of Quill Academy of Creative Writing. She has always been fascinated with stories of lost times and nerds out in the realm of all things historical, fantastical, female, and mythological. As a result, she spends her days in a literary universe best described as slipstream — a mix of historical, magical realism, and haunting romance. Robin lives with her husband, daughters, and their sphynx cat Hypatia on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in Vancouver, Canada. Woman On The Wall is her debut novel. Stay up to date on The Sibylline Chronicles at thesibyllinechronicles.com and follow Robin on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- Tell us about Woman on the Wall.
Robin Rivers: For 500 years, the once powerful Order of the Sibylline has kept the identity of its future prophetess hidden in the most famous painting in the world. Amid the chaos of post-World War II France, one woman discovers their ancient secret and its ability to transform a fragmented world.
It’s a rich alternate history that binds two women beyond time, each fighting to restore sight to a world blinded by the power and control of men. The fate of the world rests on their courage to reclaim the ancient feminine powers of the Sibylline.
- You could have explored any matriarchal society in history. Why the Sibylline?
RR: The ancient Sibyls drew my attention for several reasons. First, they were prophetesses whom kings and emperors relied upon throughout history to foretell events such as war, rise to power, and even love. The mythology around them ranges from these women living a thousand years, to kings being cursed for going against them. The Sibylline Books, which held the prophecies of the Sibyls for thousands of years, vanished around 418 A.D. and the stories about them and their lives don’t exist or have been lost. What if we knew their stories? What if it turned out that women, particularly Sibylline, held some of the most powerful positions in society we have long thought as staunchly patriarchal? What if they had been systematically erased from history? I wanted to explore the potential of that alternate history.
- How do the characters in your story relate to the modern world and the issues women face today?
RR: The desire to control women and the power that they possess is evident in almost every aspect of the modern world. We do not need to look far beyond laws related to reproductive rights, ongoing human trafficking, and missing Indigenous women in Canada to understand that. Modern women are the embodiment of the Sibylline and their ancient struggle to reclaim the values of their matriarchal society. It’s nuanced. Not every woman is onboard, and not every Sibylline wants the same thing. However, we cannot deny the work that must be done.
- How does a fantasy novel such as yours allow you to explore the nuances of the role of women in society vs. if it were straight historical fiction?
RR: Fantasy serves the great purpose of allowing us the opportunity to consider a range of possibilities when it comes to historical truths. Let’s face it. There are so many historical mysteries for which neither the historical record or modern scientific theory can necessarily account. That, paired with the other reality that there is plenty of evidence that entire civilizations were pillaged and reframed, even claimed by those who overthrew them, leaves the door open for rich literary exploration. When we have lost stories to time or tyranny, it is the fantastical that allows us to rediscover those spaces and reclaim them.
- How do you see women relating to the characters in this story?
RR: I set out to create a cast that people who identify as women my age would relate to because I rarely find myself in novels as a middle-aged woman. That was my starting point, to bring the feminine of a certain vintage and experience to the forefront of a novel where those qualities gave them what it took to succeed. From there, I wanted layers of gray in all of the characters so that we could find ourselves, imperfections and all, in their desires, strengths, and grief. My hope is that women are moved to see themselves in the Sibylline, Marie, and their collective recovery of the feminine.
- Why combine the Mona Lisa, World War II, and the Sibyls?
RR: The Mona Lisa was hidden away and off the radar for most of World War II and her actual return to the Louvre coincided with my story timeline. It seemed ideal to combine that, the well-known Nazi obsession with occult artifacts (they also had their own woman who claimed to be an orcale), and the other reality that Fontevraud was a prison where many WWII political prisoners were kept. Layered on top of that, the Mona Lisa contains its own mysteries. The timelines came together in the most wonderful ways.
- You traveled to France to research this story. How did going to these places shape what you wrote?
RR: Traveling to France changed the entire story for me. While I could research the heck out of anything online, there was something truly magical about being in Amboise, Fontevraud, and other places. I discovered several locations including the spring outside Château Gaillard and Les Greniers de Caséar that I would never really have known about from online research. Now, they are key locations in Woman On The Wall.
- You also teach writing. What advice do you have for writers who may be hesitating to start writing their book?
RR: Write every day, but don’t do it alone. Work with a developmental editor or a teacher who can help you refine your skills and learn the craft. Yes, there is such a thing as natural writing ability. However, storytelling is as much a vocation—with specific tools and necessary training on how to use them—as it is an artform. Also, writing is hard work, like LOTS of hard work. Accept that and you are gold.
- What’s next for you?
RR: The Sibylline Chronicles VOL. 2! The next installment in this series is already well underway. I will only say this–it picks up in 1950 as the nuclear arms race picks up pace and the Sibylline are right in the middle of it.
My thoughts: this was an interesting book, taking on historical details and blending them with a fantastical angle – that the Sibyls, a line of female prophets, hidden within an order of nuns for many centuries, ordered the creation of the Mona Lisa, La Jaconde, from Da Vinci as part of their future proofing. Instead of her being, as is now thought, the wife of a wealthy merchant, she is actually from a vision the order’s future leader saw.
In 1945 while restoring the Louvre, the search for the missing Mona Lisa, hidden away to save her from the Nazis, coincides with a hunt for the remaining members of the Sibyls order, and their potential new prophetess.
Dr. Marie Guerrant doesn’t believe in the Sibyls, but she wants to find the painting and her daughter, Serah, who was working with the Maquis, the French Resistance, risking her life while her mother was held captive as a political prisoner. The journey to reunite with both artwork and daughter will put Marie in danger as other forces are after the same goals.
We are also transported back into the 16th Century, as Da Vinci completes his masterpiece and foreign forces (this time Spanish) threaten France and the Sibyls. Can Aesmeh and her followers protect the painting and ensure its safety so in 500 years the new Sibyl can unlock its secrets and restore the order?
There’s a lot to take in and some serious historical research has clearly been done, but the plot wears it lightly and is enjoyable and action packed. In both time periods there is a lot at stake, I think I enjoyed the 1945 storyline more as Marie felt very real and we know that risks were taken to protect artworks and items of historical significance across Europe. I think Marie cones across well, she’s brave and resilient, an expert in her field and a devoted mother. It will be interesting to see where the story of the Sibyls goes next.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.