A Passionate Hope: Hannah’s Story

Written by Jill Eileen Smith
Review by J. Lynn Else

Book 4 of Smith’s Daughters of the Promised Land series centers around Hannah (First Samuel, Old Testament). In 1141 BCE, her community struggles as the leading priests of the tabernacle in Shiloh become more and more corrupt, ruining the people’s sacrifices and defiling young women who serve the temple. But Hannah has a lot to look forward to. Soon, she is wed to Elkanah. They enjoy many happy, loving years as husband and wife. Sadly, however, Hannah never conceives an heir for her husband. Under pressure from his family, Elkanah eventually agrees to take a second wife, Peninnah, who bears a son in the first year of marriage. Yet Peninnah is unhappy that Elkanah does not love and honor her more and takes this frustration out on Hannah. As Peninnah continues to bear children, Hannah questions if God hears her pleas for a child. At the same time, Elkanah wonders whether God will save their nation from the corruption in Shiloh.

While steeped in well-researched biblical details, what disappointed me about the book was the lack of character growth. Hannah’s faith is always strong. She questions her inability to have children, but she never struggles following God’s word. About midway through, chapters alternate between Hannah lamenting and Peninnah complaining. The story does a lot of telling readers how characters feel and react to their world, but there isn’t much showing/experiencing. Thus, the pace slows considerably, and I found it hard to connect with either character as they quickly fell into monotony. I can tell Smith loves this time period, and she describes the setting and social customs with ease. Typically, I devour books centering on women of ancient history, but the characters of this one just didn’t draw me in.