Game of Queens: A Novel of Vashti and Esther

Written by India Edghill
Review by Judith Starkston

This is a sprawling tale that, despite the title, is as much about two men, Daniel and Hegai, as it is about queens. Queen Vashti, the Persian Queen of Queens, refuses to obey her husband’s request to come unveiled before his guests and loses her crown. Esther is the hidden Jew who, thrust into a beauty contest to become queen, saves her people.

Much in the queens’ stories will please readers. Edghill’s version of Vashti’s character is compelling. She changes from a girl who’s been tricked into living in an extended, childish state to a woman who realizes she may not want the crown. Edghill gives Esther an appealing independence. In one scene she demonstrates Haman’s immorality by showing him drowning puppies. Esther rescues the dogs while facing down Haman’s assault.

But at key moments the story rushes. For example, Esther’s greatest danger, to approach the king without summons, an offense punishable by death, is reported summarily at a double remove. Esther is a point-of-view narrator, so this arm’s distance seems odd. We could be inside her experience at the story’s crescendo.

The first quarter of the book focuses on Daniel and Hegai without the queens. That implies essential centrality for these two men. Daniel’s role with both queens is to give advice, but that advice takes the form of getting them to listen to their own ideas. Hegai plays a more constant role in Vashti’s life, but he never takes decisive action despite the motivation provided by the violence in Hegai’s early life. This novel works best when we are close to the inner world of these ancient queens.