Saturday, June 11, 2011

Book Review: "A Reluctant Queen" by Joan Wolf

Summary from BN.com: She was a simple girl faced with an impossible choice. He was a magnificent king with a lonely heart. Their love was the divine surprise that changed the course of history. The beloved story of Esther springs to fresh life in this inspired novel that vibrates with mystery, intrigue, and romance.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the story of Esther. It’s one of my favorites in the Bible and one that I love reading just as a story along with the book of Ruth. If you’re looking for a good story with a narrative in the Bible, this is one of them. However, I feel that it’s been done too many times in terms of fictional adaptations. I’m sorry but how many times can you retell the story even with slight changes? I've read book versions of Esther's story, stories based on her story, movie adaptations, even a Veggie Tales version. Between her and Mary, the mother of Jesus, I think they are two most overdone female characters in terms of adaptations. The bad thing about so many adaptions is when the changes pretty much decimates the entire story.

This story had many discrepancies that took me out of the story and found myself getting agitated. I don't know if this because I'm a historian but it really bothers me when a historical fiction book continues to get facts wrong. I don't mind embellishing the story by showing how characters feel or think. I don't even mind if events are made up as long as they are keeping with the time period, customs, and other historical facts from that era. I love historical fiction because it encourages me to want to learn more about the history. But what I can't stand is when a book takes a historical event and changes the entire sequence of history just to fit the author's view of how the story should have been.

First, Esther is never once referred to as Hadassah, her Jewish name. Even though there is an author’s note at the end of the book that explains her decision of why she chooses Ahasuerus as the king in this story, I couldn't buy it. If she hadn't made Xerxes his brother, I suppose might have but since every other account I have ever read calls him Xerxes having two characters like this just made it confusing. The whole climatic scenes where Esther keeps delaying to tell the King about the plan to hurt the Jews is pretty much eliminated. In fact I felt like most of the true story was eliminated to up the romance factor.

However there is one situation I was highly appalled and really made wonder how no one else seemed to notice this. There is a scene early in the book when Esther eats pork. PORK!!!!! I don’t care if she’s pretending not to be Jewish. She is NOT going to eat PORK! You can give the argument that’s she’s just trying to act Persian and not to let her true nature show through. But the author doesn’t give one hint of struggle or uneasiness on Esther’s part during this entire scene. Instead Esther is just taking that pork off the plate as if she has no problems with it whatsoever. To me this ruins the entire story of Esther. Her whole purpose in the entire story comes down to the fact that she is JEWISH and it is because of her strong Jewish faith that she is able to save her people by being where she is when she is. This really made me angry.

Lest you think that I totally hated the book, I didn't. There were scenes that I did find interesting. Even though I'm not an expert on beauty treatments, I have always loved the parts of this story where Esther goes through all these treatments to present herself to the king. Therefore I enjoyed reading about these ancient spa sessions. I also found the sections of eunuchs to be most informative. I never really thought much about that situation but when you think about it, it's rather horrible to do that to such a young boy. You have no choice in the situation whatsoever and you lose such an important part of yourself. Also, maybe it's just me but I kept feeling like I was reading subtext between Haman and Ahasuerus's relationship. Though to be fair, it seemed to be all one sided on Haman's part. This puts a whole different spin on his character and I actually found it quite interesting.

I think what bothers me the most is that so many people keep raving on how good the romance is (which TBH, I wasn't too impressed) in the story but fail to mention any of the historical and Biblical inaccuracies. I feel that I cannot separate the two from each other. If you want the reader to fully appreciate your story, you can't have so many of these discrepancies in it. I've said before that I'm a big fan of Biblical fiction, but it has to be well written and well researched. Please don't sacrifice these elements to romanticize the story especially when the actual story is already pretty romantic. I don't know if I will read more of Wolf's Biblical fiction in the future but never say never.

For an even more excellent and detailed review of this book, visit Booktalk and More's review. She goes into detail of all the issues I had problems with and more.

A Reluctant Queen by Joan Wolf is published by Thomas Nelson (2011)

This review copy was provided for a blog tour with LitFuse Publicity

2 comments:

  1. Well said my friend, well said (and thanks for the link). I especially loved your next-to-last paragraph, which I wish I'd written! ;)

    "I think what bothers me the most is that so many people keep raving on how good the romance is (which TBH, I wasn't too impressed) in the story but fail to mention any of the historical and Biblical inaccuracies. I feel that I cannot separate the two from each other. If you want the reader to fully appreciate your story, you can't have so many of these discrepancies in it. I've said before that I'm a big fan of Biblical fiction, but it has to be well written and well researched. Please don't sacrifice these elements to romanticize the story especially when the actual story is already pretty romantic."

    I don't understand it either, to be frank. It would be one thing if this novel hadn't been presented as biblical fiction - but since it is, that raises certain expectations in my view, and I couldn't ignore the way the actual story of Esther was stripped of its power.

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  2. Hmm, I don't think I want to read this. I think I'd be pretty annoyed by the things you mention, too.

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