I read this book over the weekend and I found it ridiculously empowering---with the same empowerment I am always surged with when I retreat into one of the tales of the many, many amazingly strong women of the Old Testament.
The story of Esther and her marriage to King Ahasuerus is a popular and well-loved tale from the pages of Scripture: the love story of a beguilingly beautiful Jewish woman who hides her heritage in order to win the King's hand and his ear as she attempts to quell the plots of the King's grand vizier, Haman, who wants to initiate one of history's first genocides.
From the beginning pages when we read of Esther's quiet life with her kind and wise kinsmen Mordecai to her unwilling renouncement of her Jewish faith in order to live by the King's Persian rules in hopes of being chosen as queen from his large Harem, this ancient world is filled with rich-tapered threads and the palpable scent of spices and mysticism. Biblical fiction when done poorly can be ripe with redundancy; but Joan Wolf has a talented knack for creating a world and fleshing out characters often marginalized by the confines of their ancient text. I was riveted from the moment Esther hears of Queen Vashti's untimely fate and through her first meeting with the King ( with whom she develops a completely unexpected rapport).
Like the Book of Ruth, Esther is one of the Bible's Cinderella stories: it rewards a strong and innovative and resourceful woman and commends her for the risks she takes to save her people. The King she is initially warned about melts into a kindly figure who shows unanticipated compassion; the villain is given just reward, and Esther and her Uncle are given the satisfaction of knowing that their Jewish relatives are saved from an awful fate.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Bible is how God used unexpected people: beautiful women, prostitutes, Moabite strangers, warriors and Queens to solidify his master plan. Esther is a strong and good-natured woman with a succinct devotion and unwavering loyalty to the right. She deserves the sweet and slow romance which blossoms between her and the King. She deserves the happy end to a troubled fate.
I have already pre-ordered Wolf's retelling of the Rahab story and cannot wait to sink my teeth into more of her well-researched description.
For those who are not convicted by a religious sense, you can easily seep into this story regarding it as a powerful and well-penned chapter of political history. Wolf paints well Esther and Ahasurerus; but also Haman, the court Eunichs and servants who serve the Queen and the financially-sound Mordecai whose conviction propels Esther into the fate which secures her people and inspirationally launches the well-loved and still-practiced celebration of Purim.
Read this book! Romantic! Historical! Colourful! and a serene portrait of one of history's most memorable royals!