Set in second century AD in Rome, Hallstrom’s incisive historical novel draws inspiration from the true story of the noblewoman who inspired Justin Martyr’s petition to the Roman Senate. Amora, daughter of a high-placed noble family, has gotten everything she’s ever wanted: she has a doting husband in Leo and a lovely daughter she adores. But things change after the birth of her son Esteban, who is born with a shriveled leg. A wedge forms between the couple, throwing them in their separate miseries. Amora finds solitude in religion and converts to Christianity. But the conversion has dire consequences. Hallstrom’s prose is crisp as he weaves labyrinthine plot around fictional characters based on history. The vivid description of the geographical and cultural backdrop of the era and Hallstrom’s sympathetic insight into his characters’ trauma and anguish as the strange twist of fate pushes them to their limits make for a page-turning story. Hallstrom uses Amora’s transformation to bring Christianity’s principles into sharper relief, giving them both perspective and deeper meaning. The large array of fictional and historical characters is sketched with perception and skill, and the heart-wrenching twist in the final chapter will catch readers off guard. This is a winner.