Lily G. Stephen,
The Tenth Muse
(Blooming Rose, 2001)

The Tenth Muse, the first volume in The Third Verse trilogy, is unlike any book I have ever read. Lily G. Stephen has written a poetic, artistic novel that almost defies classification, combining mythology, romance, art, a touch of fantasy and an impressive range of spiritual teachings. While this book clearly aims to expand the reader's mind and promote his/her evolution toward a higher consciousness, one in which pain and negativity lose their debilitating effects on the human psyche, it does not have to convince you of its wisdom in order to enthrall you.

I don't happen to subscribe to a great deal of the new age-type thinking that lies behind the story, nor has this book drastically changed my approach to life and wisdom, yet I still enjoyed The Tenth Muse a great deal. Stephen has to some degree enabled me to see things in an altogether new way and from a unique viewpoint. That in itself is a valuable reward for Stephen's effort. Those who may discover a spiritual concept here that invites their own study and eventually leads them on a more comforting path through life may find much more than thought-provoking pleasure in these pages.

The novel is constructed around the lives of two extraordinary young ladies living largely parallel lives: Opal Courtright on Earth and Sapphire Deland on Zamora. We follow these two young lives, witnessing their exposure to and growing participation in new ways of thinking: aikido, meditation and a number of other largely Oriental spiritual paths to enlightenment. These are subjects I know almost nothing about, but Stephen carefully explains some of the underlying concepts and beliefs behind them, striving for a unity of vision akin to the unity of mind and soul such teachings help inculcate.

As the story progresses, we meet with growing similarities between the two youths. Sapphire, for example, becomes a serious student of spiritual enlightenment, while Opal's increasingly brilliant and insightful paintings (many of them based on dream memories of events in Sapphire's life) lead her almost unconsciously down the same roads of thought. Occasionally, their worlds faintly touch, transferring a memento from one plane to the other. As time goes on, and each young lady has to deal with change, loss and growth, we find their two worlds rapidly converging. Chapters which had been cycling back and forth from one character to the other suddenly rush together in a cascading climax of suspense and raw emotion, leaving me almost breathless in the process.

The book does not end at this point, however; there are greater parallels and lessons the author wishes to impart upon the reader. The later chapters of the book bring a lot of loose ends together and make a final pitch for individuals to begin working toward their own enlightenment. Only here does one sense a real intent on the part of the author to win recruits to her way of thinking, yet she does not allow her own wishes to get in the way of the story or go so far as to push readers away. This final section takes a little something away from the overall effect of the story in my opinion, yet I can see how necessary and important a function it serves for the author.

The Tenth Muse both needs and deserves a reader's full attention. The process of switching back and forth between similar yet different characters on two parallel worlds can cause moments of confusion, especially in terms of the important characters associated with each reality. The sources and means of wisdom and emotional growth that Stephen brings to bear offer the biggest hurdle, however, to those of us unfamiliar with these sometimes ancient concepts. This book takes you far deeper into such concepts as Zen than the prosaic "one hand clapping" paradigm. There are many levels upon which one can connect with the story of Opal and Sapphire, and multiple readings may be required for those wishing to learn all of the complexities of this really quite extraordinary novel.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 12 July 2003

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