Monday, March 23, 2015

Esther: Royal Beauty by Angela Hunt ~ Book Review

Based on the biblical story of Esther. As a young teenage Jewess living in Persia,  Haddasah finds herself a bit torn. She is drawn to the "romantic" notions of being royalty after she has an encounter with Queen Vashti. Her and her young Persian best friend daydream of belonging to the courts and possibly being queen. But it is in direct conflict with the teachings she received from her cousin Mordecai, who raised her. But when Vashti is stripped of her crown and the King of Persia issues a call for the collection of beautiful young women to become part of his harem, Haddasah is forcibly taken and she finds herself thrown into the courts she dreamed of when younger. But it is not as she and her friend have imagined. Changing her name to Esther to protect her heritage, she undergoes months of preparation in the hopes that the king might call upon her. Call her he does, and becomes so smitten with her he makes her queen. But as years pass, the king's attention is taken up with an evil man who's ambitions are second only to his hatred of the Jewish people. When his plans to kill the Jewish people are granted by the king, Esther must gather all her courage and violate a Persian law that could see her dead before she has a chance to put her request to save her people before the king.

I've always loved a good biblical historical novel. And yes, I know that not everything that most authors write in these stories is true and some are indeed quite liberal with their embellishments but it helps me to envision what it would have been like to go through what they did. Angela Hunt has taken the biblical story of Esther and give a wonderful fresh perspective while taking great care in remaining true to historical and biblical fact. According to her author's notes, nearly every event in the novel comes from historical record. The biblical account is loyal and then it is completed with writing from a Greek chronicler named Herodotus to fill in Persian history.

The story is written from two viewpoints: that of Haddasah (Esther) and that of Harbonah, the king's eunich chamberlain. The use of these two viewpoints brought a really wonderful context to the story. Seeing what Harbonah would see from being so close to the king and serving him on a daily basis for many years was a great addition and made for an interesting way of bringing in many aspects of historical fact of the life of King Xerxes and the Persian courts of that time, including the decrowning of Vashti. I loved Hunt's take on Haddasah not being a perfect girl, but with everyday desires and insecurities that didn't necessarily line up with what Mordecai was trying to teach her. That she was torn between her Jewish roots and traditions and yet finding herself being drawn to what life in the palace would be like sounds so much like what a teenager would go through. That Haddasah would have been a teenager when taken had not really sunk into me until I read this story and so the whole relationship between her and the approximately 40 year old king kinda made me squirm. But I loved how she went from being naive to infatuated to love and finally looking beyond her selfish self even if it meant going against her worldly love; going from an immature young teenager to a brave, wise young woman fulfilling the call of God on her life. The way the author put feelings and flesh to the characters of the story of Esther and yet remained true to the biblical and historical account made this book one that I just could not put down and will probably read again! It was so interesting. Can't wait for the next two in this "Dangerous Beauty Series".

 This review will be linked to Semicolon Saturday Review of Books.


Barbara H. said...

I am normally a little wary of Biblical fiction, but this sounds very interesting.

Faith said...

I read a book about a year or so ago about Esther...a Christian fiction one and it was quite good! This one sounds different.....i'll have to add this one too to my ever growing list!! I have THREE books from the town library right now and TWO from my dad waiting for me to read.