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Theology is on trial in this extraordinary first novel, which alternates between courtroom transcripts and a first-person account by the heroine, Aslaug, prosecuted for murders allegedly committed when she was 15. Carefully peeling back the facts entered in court, Meldrum lyrically describes Aslaug's isolated upbringing by the solitary Maren, a Danish polymath who educates Aslaug in science and languages-and in the medicinal value of the plants they collect near their Maine home; as Aslaug's story begins, Maren retreats into the hallucinatory powers of jimsonweed, or madapple, and dies without telling Aslaug the identity of her father. Flung into the contemporary world, Aslaug finds Maren's sister, a charismatic preacher, and her children, then hears explosive secrets about her conception, including Maren's claim never to have had a lover. Before long, Aslaug, too, is pregnant, and struggling to piece together her cousins' conflicting views of Maren's research into virgin births and pre-Christian messiahs. The author's timing is impeccable: her courtroom revelations advance the narrative while altering readers' perceptions of events, and Aslaug's ruminations force readers to question all they take in. Audiences will need some intellectual mettle for the densely seeded ideas, but they won't be able to stop reading. Ages 14-up. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.