Reviewed by Karen Mudge
Who was the woman Esther, who became Queen of Persia? Jewish communities across the world celebrate the festival of Purim every year, commemorating the actions of this Jewish woman, whose story is recorded in the Bible. What can we know about his remarkable young woman, whose actions have been celebrated for thousands of years?
Angela Hunt has written a moving and enthralling historical narrative based on the Biblical account of Esther’s life, and enriched it with historical details from the Persian Empire at the time of Esther’s life. Hunt’s novel, Esther, is the first book in The Dangerous Beauty series she intends to write. In it, she delves into the life of young Haddassah (Esther’s Jewish name).
Hunt paints the picture of a Jewish girl, raised in her faith by her cousin Mordecai, but identifying more with the fascinating Persian culture than her Jewish heritage. Protected and nurtured, she nonetheless ends up at the palace in Susa, and is selected from amongst many beautiful young women to be the wife of Xerxes (also known as Ahaserus), and becomes Queen.
Hunt has carefully considered the character of Esther from the Biblical account, and intimates what her background, thoughts, emotions and feelings would have been as she lived her extraordinary life. She writes of a young girl who moves from a naïve new bride to a humble and regal woman who comes to own the faith of her forefathers, and courageously acts to save her people.
The book is engaging, colourful and, although the basic plot is known to the majority of readers, it engages until the end. Hunt descends only once or twice into descriptive paragraphs which sound as if they are lifted from her pages of historical research – a risk for all historical fiction. Instead, her research primarily gives her the background to enrich the basic story of Esther and inform the reader of the world her story is set in; from the magnificent palace and gardens of Susa, to the politics and military exploits of the Persian Empire. This book firmly grounds the biblical account of Esther in history, reminding the reader that these events are not only amazing, they are also true, they really happened.
Another focus of the book is the lives of the vulnerable in Persian society. Throughout history – and still in many parts of the world today – a woman’s life is not hers to control. This is explored in the book as Esther reflects on her position, and also by the other narrator of the story, a eunuch who serves the king. Esther’s helplessness to control her own destiny only makes what she achieved for the Jewish people all the more remarkable in her time and place.
This book is well worth a read, both for those who enjoy historical fiction, and even for those who don’t usually read it. It brings alive the story of how God worked in a pagan empire and culture to preserve his people, through the faithful actions of Mordecai and his young cousin, the girl Esther.