Kingdom of the Wicked Book One: Rules

Written by Helen Dale
Review by Ann Chamberlin

Helen Dale’s first novel, The Hand that Signed the Paper, won Australia’s Miles Franklin Award; she was the youngest recipient ever. The book also caused a storm of controversy for portraying historic anti-Semitic characters as, yes, the anti-Semites they were. Dale has since moved to the UK, become a lawyer, and now turned all this personal history into a brilliant alternate history about the trial of Yeshua Ben Yusuf in 31 AD. Anti-Semitic? Most of its point of view characters are like Pontius Pilate, trying to maintain a civilized hold on Palestine when the locals don’t want the corrupting gifts of gender equality and abortions and electricity, and are willing to resort to terrorism to get their way.

After Ben Yusuf causes a riot to the world trade center of the Temple’s moneychanger’s court, the Romans feel justified in resorting to waterboarding to get life-saving information out of captured zealots whose names we know from New Testament studies. And defense lawyers with the best intentions in the world, characters to whom we are instantly drawn, can hardly defend a man connected to a hostage situation told in a scene as page-turning as any modern bestselling thriller. All the while, characters order pizza delivered and battle combat drones so we never forget to look for modern parallels that make us think, question and take our breath away. The Author’s Note on facets of the most famous trial in history is worth rereading two or three times.