The Book of Esther by Emily Barton is an alternate history adventure. The story had a bit of a slow start, for worldbuilding reasons, but since I was already so engaged by the teenage, Jewish adventure heroine, that didn’t bother me. It’s not a YA novel, both the subject and the vocabulary used make it an adult novel, but there’s a lot about the internal life and emotional struggles of a teenage girl protag. The Turkish-Jewish culture Baron describes is believable, and I kind of wanted some side stories, just to learn more about this alternate world.
The Biblical / Torah story of Esther is one of my favorites. In the Biblical story, Esther’s beauty makes her the wife of the king of Persia (I think?), and then she’s able to use her status as queen to protect the Jewish people from a king who wants to kill them. Actually, it’s Haman, the king’s corrupt advisor who wants the Jews dead, and the king just goes along with it. Forgot to mention, the king killed his last wife, so he’s probably not a really friendly and well-adjusted dude. Anyway, Esther has to convince her husband, though both bravery and tricks, not to randomly let Haman kill all the Jews.
They tried to kill us, we survived, yay, it’s a holiday!
Barton keeps some of the themes, but this isn’t a retelling. Everything is great in the Jewish/Turkish empire, until the 1940s, when a certain Germanic leader comes to power. A young girl, Esther, needs to use a combination of bravery and trickery to save her people. This is much more of a religiously-inspired adventure, than a retelling.
I also read Rebecca Kanner’s novel Esther, which IS a retelling of the Biblical story. There’s more of a focus on harem intrigue, which never made it to my Sunday-school classes, but naturally a king like Xerxes would have a whole harem, and naturally Esther’s not the only pretty girl who wants to become queen. Others in the palace have their own agendas, which may or may not align with Esther’s goals. There’s also an explanation of just how the king’s last wife got killed, apparently the king wanted her to show up naked at a party of his friends, so you don’t doubt for a minute that Esther could be killed next. And to make the palace intrigue even more tense, Esther has a lot of Meaningful Eye Contact with one of the handsome harem guards.
I love that this ancient story has inspired two new, and very different novels!
I received The Book of Esther from the publisher to review. All opinions are my own.