The Last Priestess of Malia
by Laura Perry
I’ve read some of Laura’s other works before, such as her fascinating work on Minoan spirituality. I’d also very much enjoyed her ghost-love story, The Bed, which is a fantastic example of “Witch Lit”, an exciting genre of magical writing.
The Last Priestess of Malia is on a completely different level. I feel like Laura has emerged as an incredible world-builder. She’s created a fascinating insight into what the Minoan culture may have been like, allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves in that world.
Aria is a dedicated child of the temple, a priestess whose initiation occurs amidst visions and auguries. Her journey involves strenuous and tedious duties, exciting rites and rituals, and sacrifice the likes of which we could not bear to endure. She grows from puzzled child to petulant acolyte to powerful priestess. Yet all the while something else is growing inside her; the ability to analyze and question, whilst remaining utterly devoted to her Goddesses, Gods and Spirits.
Meanwhile, the world continues to move and change outside the firm foundation of temple life. Not everyone is happy with the power the Goddess continues to hold. Aria learns the hard way that not everyone walks with goodness in their hearts. She has to learn how to deal with this much sooner than she ever thought she may have to.
At times, this book is bleak and emotionally shocking. Themes of losing a child, rape, human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, and ritual sexual acts are all woven into the narrative, but never simply to shock. Laura builds her world in painstaking detail. All these points are necessary to make it clear how different this culture is. This is how utterly devoted to their religion these people are, and how fragile in the face of losing it.
Her characters are completely believable. They’re flawed and doubt their own abilities, act wrongly at times, and even the protagonist makes poor choices and acts out of envy or pettiness. You can’t help but feel for Aria and her impatience. She’s frustrated with her slow progress through her temple education, and a sense that the High Priestess is punishing her in some way. You yearn for her to leap forwards, to discover her purpose- which makes it all the more shocking when you finally do.
Laura has also managed to make a startlingly relevant exploration of current themes. Suddenly, women outside Aria’s home are not treated as equals. Men start to use and abuse women and disregard the priestesses and Goddesses of old. The men and women of Aria’s temple do not understand this. They’re completely unprepared when it affects them directly and in the most disturbing of ways.
In a world where leaders mock the #MeToo movement and speak about women as if they were commodities, how can we not resonate with this? When women all over the world still lack the same education and rights as their male counterparts, these themes are all too relevant. This makes this story feel incredibly modern, despite the Minoan setting.
Laura also explores the dilemma between wanting to honour one’s Goddesses, Gods, Spirits or Ancestors, and being intelligent enough to question everything. Aria begins to doubt the accuracy of the rites and rituals they perform. She wonders how anyone can be sure this is what the Gods want- something anyone of any spiritual leaning will have pondered at some point.
This is a completely fascinating tale, beautifully written and completely gripping. The descriptions of the rites, from the trances to the dances and the opiates used to achieve journeys into other worlds are just incredible. I relished every page and can’t wait to read more from Laura Perry.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.