This novel is exactly what Biblical fiction should be - or any kind of historical fiction for that matter: History brought to life on the page; names given flesh, muscle, bones, and a beating heart; and a story that is completely authentic to its setting. This time in Israel’s history takes up a mere two chapters in the book of Judges - not a great deal for an author to go on, and yet Jill Eileen Smith has fleshed out an engaging and very believable account of the time leading up to and including the battle in which the Canaanites are routed by the Lord.
The story opens with a prologue where Deborah receives a vision from the Lord, and is given in marriage to Lappidoth. Both characters drew me in from the moment they appeared on the page, and the more I got to know them, the more deeply I became invested in their story. As it would be natural to suppose, Deborah is portrayed as having a strong personality, and yet the author never colours her with modern egalitarian notions. Deborah embraces her role as a wife and mother, even struggles against her disappointment at her husband’s eternal amiability and willingness to compromise for her sake, and her growth these roles form as much a part of the story as her roles as a judge and prophetess.
Barak, Talya (Deborah and Lappidoth’s daughter), and Jael (the wife of Heber the Kenite) are the other primary point-of-view characters. Barak lost his wife, Nessa, to Sisera’s sword and will not rest until her death is avenged, but he grows impatient for the Lord to repay Sisera’s evil. As the virgin daughter of a leader in Israel, Talya is at even greater risk of being a target for Sisera and his men, and Deborah continually worries that her headstrong daughter will not heed the danger as she should. Heber and Jael were forced to leave their extended family after a dispute over the treatment of a Canaanite slave. They have pitched a tent near Kadesh and seek to protect themselves against Sisera by making themselves valuable to him: as metalworkers, they supply him with weapons, and yet the threat of danger is never far away. Each of these characters were well drawn and added an important dimension to the story. I also thought the author did an excellent job of driving home the impact of living under the oppression of Sisera’s army without becoming too graphic.
It is impossible to read the story of Deborah and not wonder why God chose her – or more specifically, a woman – to lead Israel at this time. This book does not really seek to answer this question; it is irrelevant in many ways, because knowing the answer does not add to or detract from the fact that God appointed her. There is, however, some interesting conjecture in the novel about the appropriateness of a woman being the one to defeat Sisera that I had not considered before.
I really cannot recommend this novel highly enough, especially for lovers of Biblical fiction. It is emotionally and historically rich, and hooked me from the first page right up until the last. I actually paused in my reading at one point to go back and read the two chapters from Judges because I was sure there must have been details there that I had forgotten about. There were not. I sincerely admire the thought and study that must have gone into not only conceiving such a realistic picture of these characters from the scant details available to us, but then also portraying them to the reader so convincingly.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Books in exchange for my honest review.