The book begins with Ta-Thea, empress of Shinabar in the middle of coup. Her husband the Isarch and her small child have been murdered, and she escapes her would be murderers and the palace with the help of a member of the guard.
Arriving in the Lost Lands, the home of her mother's people, she seeks to understand the meaning of life and the loss of her child. She finds an ancient hermit who warns her that her journey will cost her greatly, but she is determined to go.
From there, she sets off on a spirit journey with the Mariner, Ishrafeli. When she returns from these adventures she finds herself in possession of the Book of Truth.
Seeking to bring the word and love of God back to her people, she finds herself constantly challenged by Asmodeus and his minions.
As a non-Christian, I had some challenges with the fact that the book is a thinly-veiled Christian parable. Yet, I feel that in most part, it conveys the underlying message of Christianity in a better and clearer way than the Bible itself (on the occasions I've tried to slog through that book).
The character of Tathea herself is powerful and compelling. She endures hardship after hardship with an indefatigueable courage and grace. Though her falls from and rises to power are a rollercoaster, she clings to her faith even through pain and highest cost.
Fleeing through the desert, near the beginning of the book, she comes upon a woman who is mourning at her husband's grave. "You must have loved him very much," Tathea says. The woman replies that no, she didn't even like him much. She goes on to say:
"Because he had life," she answered. "He had a chance to be brave and to seek the truth, to honor and defend it. He had time in which he could have faced fear and overcome it; to know himself without deceit, excuse or self-pity; to bear pain without bitterness. He had days in which to laugh, to see beauty, to fill his heart with gratitude. He could have been kind and brave and generous...Above all, there were people he could have loved and learned to forgive. He is gone, and who is there in the world that is poorer?...Now all his chances are finished. Of course I weep for him!"
This scene sets the tone of story's message, and the trials, triumphs, sacrifices and betrayals that Tathea faces through her dark journey of the soul.
There are some messages in Tathea that I can't agree with, such as when Isadorus leaves his beloved mistress so that he will not break troth with a loveless marriage. With others, I agree, such as Tathea herself refusing to consummate a union with the man she loves because she loves his wife Eleni also, and knows he loves her as well.
Above all, the message is that mankind is given Choice, and has the ability to rise or fall on his own actions.
The writing is so clear as to be almost liquid. Soaring and gliding through light and shadow with an agility that seems near effortless. Much of the first half of the book reminded me of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, though I can't say exactly why.
This is not to say that it's an easy read. The book is long - over 500 pages - and it took me several weeks to read, as at certain points I needed to put it down and give myself a break. It is a book that will make you think, and examine your own beliefs and your own faults, triumphs and failures, whether or not you agree with every precept.
Tathea is a book that you may love or you may hate, or very possibly some of both. It is not a book that you will forget soon.