The Secret Book of Sacred Things is the third novel by enigmatic author Torsten Krol, which takes societal themes from his previous two books and sets them against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Earth where small communities struggle against the forces of nature and cling to ritual and primitive gods.
Set as a first person narrative we explore the enclosed world of the Sisters of Selene through their Scribe, Aurora. This community of the church Sisters and villagers descend from a group who fled the first disaster, led by the first Sister who set up the cult of Selene, with women making all of the decisions, and the Sisters of the church worshipping the huge moon which hangs overhead. As the Scribe, Aurora, or Rory as she’s know, has to write the name of Selene repeatedly each day as they believe this keeps her in the sky and protects them from earthquakes.
Many generations have passed however since the Sisters organised the community, and tensions are rising as men from the village begin to exert dominance once more. Selene is also drawing nearer on her new orbit, and Rory starts to write her secret book alongside Selene’s name, describing her thoughts and fears as events move beyond her control.
The community described in this novel could be from the medieval age, with people living off farming and trading, with an overseeing church dictating everything that happens, and I think that is what makes is such an interesting story, with quite a different feel from other post-apocalyptic fiction I have read. There’s no old technology used apart from a telescope and there’s nothing mentioned about what happened to society, or much about what happened to the world when disaster struck. What it does focus on though is belief, gender, society and how these people have adapted after extreme events meant hundreds of years of technological development, science and knowledge was wiped out.
The Sisters of Selene have an absolute belief that the moon is a goddess who has to be worshipped otherwise she’ll come crashing down, and all girls in the community are brought up in the faith. Many leave to marry and have children, but the Sisters who live in the church are the law makers. They believe men caused the ruin of the old world with their grasping, power-hungry dictatorship over women, so now women rule the men as they believe this is more harmonious. Rory is 12 and has a deep sense of not only the importance of the Sisters, but also her own specialness as the Scribe.
When a young girl arrives from a fishing village the Sisters trade with, where their god is a whale, Rory pities her for her ignorant beliefs and uncouth manners, but love blossoms between them – a short respite before their community comes under threat from a man in the village who has gathered support and decided that the time has come for men to take over again and put women to use working and making babies. They worship the Sun, Sol, and the Sisters must face a new future as both the men and Sol turn against them.
Rory is an interesting narrator because although she’s very blunt and exact, she’s also got such a sense of self-aggrandisement that half-heard conversations get turned in her head into prophecies regarding herself where she takes over the Sisters and speaks the word of Selene. She’s a very forceful personality, and although the whole novel is seen through her eyes only, you find yourself in tandem watching the events as a separate observer almost whilst she works herself into a religious frenzy about preaching words powerful enough to destroy all dissent, or clinging onto the belief that because she’s special, things will happen differently to her than to all others.
It’s an interesting look into how people react to extreme circumstances, and although events and characters can be a bit black or white due to Rory’s childish personality, it’s a very absorbing read.
Review by Cat Fitzpatrick
1 positive reader review(s) for The Secret Book of Sacred Things
Michael from Auckland
A superb piece of future fiction, on a par with Cormac McCarthy.
9.3/10 from 2 reviews