July 4th 2017, Bethany House, 379 Pages
Ebook, Print and Audio
Five decades before the birth of Christ, Chava, daughter of the royal tutor, grows up with Urbi, a princess in Alexandria's royal palace. When Urbi becomes Queen Cleopatra, Chava vows to be a faithful friend no matter what--but after she and Cleopatra have an argument, she finds herself imprisoned and sold into slavery.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Torn from her family, her community, and her elevated place in Alexandrian society, Chava finds herself cast off and alone in Rome. Forced to learn difficult lessons, she struggles to trust a promise HaShem has given her. After experiencing the best and worst of Roman society, Chava must choose between love and honor, between her own desires and God's will for her life.
I had a few reservations before picking this book on Netgalley, mainly due to an older book I read by this author years ago which really wasn't great. I did, however, enjoy the movie adaptation of her more recent work 'Risen' and the subject was interesting- and isn't that cover just beautiful!
My final feelings on the book were decidedly mixed. There were definitely shades of Ben-Hur in the plot, with the story of a Jewish girl name Chava from a privileged background remaining faithful to her God and her principles when her whole world was turned on its head, and in the midst of terrible adversities including being sold into slavery. That part of the story was genuinely well-told, emotional and exciting, albeit a little bit repetitive in a couple of places.
Chava, grew a lot in the course of the story, and though I rooted for her, I'm not sure I ever totally warmed to her. I won't say she was perfect but close to it.
The religious message was also touching and delivered authentically without being preachy. I thought it was well handled, as since of course the novel is set a few decades Before Christ, it does not fit into the traditional remit of 'Biblical Fiction'. Judaism, not Christianity is the faith of the faithful, and of course, no New Testament existed so they drew guidance, encouragement, and peace from what they had whether that was the Old Testament Scriptures or the works of the Great Philosophers of old.
However, I had a number of issues. Whilst many details well-researched and authentic, others were not. Obvious Americanisms coming from the mouths of first century BC Alexandrians were just--- no. Chava talking about traveling several 'blocks' to the city docks was almost too much. (For goodness sake, stop it with everyone in the Ancient and Medieval world measuring distance in 'blocks'! I'm sure readers can grasp miles and yards). There were other glaring historical errors, one that stood out for me was the mention of raw sewage flowing down the rat-infested streets of ancient Rome. All this in the city that was famous for its network of underground sewers, unique in the Classical world, and transporting this technology across the Empire.
Also the description of slaves being transported in Tiny berths and conditions reminiscent of the transatlantic slave trade and terrible also didn't ring true. I mean seriously, why would the person who had supposedly paid over a year's wage one slave then keep her in conditions so bad it destroyed her beauty and nearly killed her only to sell her for a fraction of the price? It's this inconsistency in terms of research and accuracy that bothers me with a lot of Christian Fiction, in which minor details are correct, but major ones are allowed to slip.
I have also noticed in several of this author's books the tendency to idealize the culture in which her protagonists lived: but at the same time have historical people judge the world around them and its people according to modern expectations and standards, unattainable and unrealistic at the time. So there were some modern romantic ideas bandied about 'Why can't Cleopatra just marry whoever she wants because she loves them no matter who they are?' and 'Poor her, having to marry for duty/politics'.
Finally, I really did not buy the sympathetic depiction of Cleopatra as a type of victim who just wanted to do the best for her country: I think it's a naive depiction that does not take account of the savage realities of the ancient world and its politics.
This was a world in which most people were prepared to do literally anything to preserve power and survive, and few had qualms about murdering anyone they perceived as a threat or using their body to achieve their ends. Please don't try and tell me that a woman who killed her brother and sister, and famously had affairs with two Roman generals was somehow above such tactics or was more moral than others because she loved her country and made a good childhood friend.
I requested a copy of this title from Netgalley and listened on the Audiobook of my own volition. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.