Award-winning author Rebecca Kanner returns to the Old Testament, this time drawing from one of the most powerful and often-portrayed female figures in Biblical history: Esther, the Jewish virgin who became a Persian queen and saved her people from destruction. Kanner’s depiction of Esther is a departure from how she is often rendered, that is, humble and obedient, with a kindness to others that manifests as courage. Instead, we meet a young girl who fights capture and must survive in a harsh and cruel world that treats women as chattel to be discarded, passed from king down to soldier at whim. Esther is a broken and flawed figure struggling to capture the attentions of King Xerxes while fighting her feelings for one of his soldiers.
The political machinations of Halannah, Haman’s niece and the concubine who would be queen, are the epicenter of the novel, which pivots on harem life, bringing a less-frequently-seen perspective to the Esther story. There are several deviations from the traditional Esther story that Kanner takes which reveal a complexity of depth and richness beneath the glittering facade of the Persian Empire, a setting and culture which, in other retellings, can be forgotten completely. Kanner focuses not on Esther’s faith, but on her desperation, which makes for a compelling piece of historical fiction.