In 732 BCE, five-year-old Ishma witnessed her family being murdered by Israel’s soldiers. After the prophet Oded’s words free her and other captives from slavery, she finds her way into the home of Isaiah, God’s prophet, who has fallen out of favor with King Ahaz. In a pagan ceremony, King Ahaz sacrifices his oldest son to the god Molek. The memory of that day leaves Prince Hezekiah tormented, and he suffers daily. When Ishma and Hezekiah meet, the two form a bond of healing and hope. Over the years, this friendship blossoms into love. So that Ishma can be considered for a royal betrothal, Isaiah adopts her and gives her the name Hephzibah, meaning “delight of the Lord.” But Hephzibah and Hezekiah face many challenges to their faith. Can they rely on God during great hardships affecting both their family and their country?
Andrews, known for providing voice to women typically in the margins of biblical stories, paints a beautiful tale with heartfelt characters. While this is jarring at first, readers can easily adapt to the narrative switches from first person (Ishma/Hephzibah’s voice) to third person from chapter to chapter.
Ishma’s point of view hooked me from the get-go, despite her being only five years old. Andrews skillfully develops Ishma from orphaned child to the young queen renamed Hephzibah. I also loved how Andrews dives into how difficult prophecy can be, both to interpret and to give. Isaiah’s inner turmoil, Hezekiah’s difficulties trusting God, and Ishma’s reluctance to accept that she is loved are all sensitively explored issues. Historical details are woven into the narrative flawlessly. I particularly loved Andrews’s choice for metaphors (one example refers to standing a camel’s length away). These details really authenticate the story. This is a very well-researched and deeply felt novel. Recommended!