A Reluctant Queen by Joan Wolf
July 5th 2011 by Thomas Nelson
Paperback, 400 Pages
An inspired re-imagining of the tale of Esther, a young Jewish woman thrust from a life of obscurity into a life of power, wealth, intrigue . . . and tender love. See the story of Esther in an entirely new way-with all the political intrigue and tension you remember, but told as a passionate and tender love story between a young man and woman. Misunderstood by many, King Xerxes was a powerful but lonely man. Esther's beauty caught the eye of the young king, but it was her spirit that captured his heart.
If you have read the book of Esther in the Old Testament, than you already know what this story is about. But for those who have never met Esther, she was a Jewish woman, orphaned by the death of her parents and was raised by her Jewish Uncle, Mordecai. During Esther's time King Xerxes ruled the empire and the country was all riled up due to his dismiss of Queen Vashti. When Xerxes men begin finding new prospects for the King, they gather up beautiful virgins who will go through rigorous beauty treatments and become a part of the Kings Harem, while awaiting the chance to be the next Queen. Esther is one of my favorite books in the Bible, its one of the few books that showcase a woman and how God took her from ordinary to extraordinary by the most unlikely means.
I enjoyed reading parts of this novel, I loved the simple way Wolf brought Esther to life and seeing what Esther had to go through in order to prepare for the King. In the Biblical story we know Esther went through months of beauty treatments and proper lessons in behavior for her big reveal day, but in the story we get to go through all these treatments and lessons with her, we get to feel what Esther was feeling and how she handled the upheaval of her life, for the girly girl in me I loved it. Obviously the author took liberties in making the story dramatic and added thoughts, dialog and interactions to the real known story and while I liked how she fleshed Esther's character out, the researcher in me didn't mesh very well with the added context and changes to the original Biblical and historical account. There were a few major embellishments in Esther’s story, ones that I found stand out to me because it changed the feel of the history so much, here are a few.
In the Biblical story:
Esther was Full Jew
Esther was taken by force to the Harem
Mordecai was devastated to see Esther chosen
Esther marries King Xerxes
In this Fictional story:
Esther was half Jew, half Persian
Esther volunteered to compete in the Kings Harem
Mordecai is the ultimate planner in this volunteering
Esther marries King Ahasuerus (Hebrew name for Xerxes)
**King Xerxes was a wishy-washy king and an insecure man where Ahasuerus (made up) is strong, gentle and romantic and lets Esther give him plenty of political advice and control over the Harem, in which many girls get sent home, released or married off. That so did not happen in the Bible, Xerxes was a player and had many concubines and mistresses all lined up to serve him. Also, he with flippant arrogance wrote a decree with no thought whatsoever about destroying the Jews.
This really wasn't a re-image of Esther but a revised look into the Biblical story. There was quite a few differences between the real Esther and book Esther causing a numbing down of Esther's true identity in the Kings Harem and also the overall peril the Jews were facing. Esther and Xerxes relationship doesn't get examined very much in the Bible, however there is point when the Jews are facing utter annihilation, that Esther proclaims (Esther 4:11) her husband hadn't called for her in over a month, doesn't sound like marital bliss to me. Overall, while not historically accurate, for romance value, I liked the love story between Esther and Ahasuerus, it gave me if even only for a few moments an outlook that Esther and Xerxes could have enjoyed there own momentary love story.
A Reluctant Queen is suitable for adult readers (can be read by mature teens as well) and contains: Jewish and Persian culture, mild sexuality (non-graphic) political aspects, Biblical history, war, violence and romance.
3/5- Historical CF
Thanks to Litfuse and Thomas Nelson for review Copy