In the first volume of the Commandment trilogy, we left Zachary, the failed hermit, as he began to expiate his sins in the interior desert of fourth-century Egypt. This second volume links his story with that of Leila, the peasant girl whom the bandit Darion saved from rape at the hands of his gang. While Zachary goes through a series of bizarre experiences in a lost desert oasis, Leila travels to the White Monastery, ruled by the ruthless Shenoute, where instead of the holy calm she expected she finds only lesbian practices and spiteful intrigue. When Zachary falls mortally ill he is rescued by an unexpected savior, and recovers to find himself a peasant in the Nile valley. There he meets Leila, who has been expelled from the White Monastery, and slowly, cautiously, almost unwillingly these two “Casualties of the Life”, as they call themselves, begin to fall in love.
Once again, with exemplary research and evocative writing, Derek Bickerton brings to life an exotic but little-known period of history, and sheds a unique light on the early development of Christianity—both its good and its bad sides.