Title: Hadassah: Queen Esther of Persia
Author: Diana Wallis Taylor
Major Themes: Biblical Fiction, History
Synopsis: When Hadassah is taken to the King’s court, she must learn to trust God for her protection and direction.
I don’t read many Biblical fiction books. I’m not sure if that’s because there aren’t a whole lot out there, or if I don’t trust many authors, or if I tend to be skeptical about whether the story is going to actually be the story it claims to be or not. However, when I saw Hadassah: Queen Esther of Persia available for review a few months back, and then read the back-cover copy, I decided I would give it a shot. I knew I’d either love or hate it, but it was worth the chance—and I’m thankful I gave it that chance in the end!
The “Queen Esther” story is very familiar, probably to all of us. Here’s a young Jewish girl, jerked out of her quiet home-life with her cousin, likely not even getting to say goodbye to her friends. She is taken to the pagan king’s palace, and basically added to a harem with lots of other scared girls who don’t have much more of a clue than she as to what’s expected of them. More than that, this is more like a beauty pageant—whoever is the most beautiful and catches the king’s eye the best will get to be queen; everyone else will be consigned to the harem for the rest of their lives. Not necessarily the most exciting prospect ever! What we don’t read about in the Bible is what Xerxes did as a king; how he went to try to conquer Greece (and failed), what his relationship with Esther was like (aside from that “she pleased him” and they didn’t see each other for a month straight at least once), or what his family was like. But the main story is there—a girl who courageously risks her life for her people, a girl who did her best to love the king and follow God’s guidance.
Reading Hadassah: Queen Esther of Persia felt like visiting an old friend—studying the same picture, just with more details added. There was the color of Hadassah’s relationship with Mordecai, the hues of love between Esther and the King, the loneliness and comfort Esther found even while in the palace. Then there was the history, the bold, steadying strokes that made up the background, weaving in King Xerxes’ acts as king (including that unforgettable Battle of Salamis), and some of the happenings after Mordecai became prime minister, with the Biblical strokes of the king’s feast and how Purim came about.
As far as I know, all the history stated here is correct. I had heard a correlation between Xerxes’ fight with the Greeks lined up with the king’s feast mentioned in Esther (the one where Vashti was deposed), but this book put the events in a slightly different order that makes even more sense. However it actually happened is, I suppose, anyone’s guess—but this book being confirmed by other sources does give it even more plausibility in my mind. There also weren’t many liberties taken with the account—it’s given to us just as you would expect to hear another story; the same basic bones, but enough more information to make it read more like a novel. One thing that caught me off guard, and nearly made me question the historical accuracy, was Esther telling the story of Jonah to some boys in here—but then I realized Jonah would have happened nearly 300 years before this story, so it’s actually quite plausible! Another thing that struck me as odd, but then made sense, was several mentions of distance in kilometers—this measurement, of course, wasn’t invented for several thousand years after that! But if I consider the fact that we say “miles” today in Biblical fiction, it’s not unreasonable to use kilometers, too.
In all, I was quite impressed by this book. The writing style perhaps could have used some help—it felt somewhat simple to me—but once I got into the story, it wasn’t as much of a problem. I also loved the fact that this book was fairly clean—though it is a love story, that part was handled very well. If you’re looking for a good retelling of the book of Esther, I think you’d probably appreciate this!
I requested a free review copy of this book from CelebrateLit, and this is my honest opinion of it.
WARNING: People die in ch. 1, 9, and 37. A man considers selling a girl in ch. 1. The Persian gods are mentioned several times, in ch. 19, 28, and 35. Nights spent with the king are mentioned every now and then, of course. Ch. 22 mentions girls hoped for illegitimate children by the king, even if they got nothing else. The end of ch. 24 tells of Esther’s meeting with the king—how he touched her at first, what the king had her wear, how she followed a woman’s advice for what to do with the King, etc. (a bit more description that I might like). A man admires a woman’s body in ch. 28. The Persian’s preferred method of death is described in ch. 30 (pretty awful)—also mentioned in ch. 46 and 47. A man commits suicide in ch. 31, and a woman in ch. 47. Persian burial customs (somewhat disgusting) are mentioned in ch. 31, 38, and 50. A Persian superstition is mentioned in ch. 36. A beautiful woman “occupying” the king is mentioned in ch. 43. Two men are killed in ch. 49. Esther thinks about things Xerxes and she have done together in ch. 50 (one mention parents may wish to censor). There is a fight and a man is killed (fairly detailed) in ch. 52.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults