Written by Patti Rutka

Although the concept of a sympathetic backstory for the notorious Salomé—she whose dance ended in the beheading of John the Baptist—is a great idea, this book doesn’t deliver. At only 105 pages, it’s more a prosy outline of what could be an interesting story than an actual finished novel. The first two chapters present the first-person musings of a 16-year-old unnamed girl who has been, quite improbably, hired by the aging Queen Salomé to write down her memoirs from dictation. We follow her to the door of the Queen’s room and just when we’re getting used to her odd phrasings and dissonantly modern diction, the narrative changes to an extensive third-person flashback to Salomé as a young girl. The narrator returns only in the last chapter.

The author’s writing is convoluted, studded with words that smack too much of the thesaurus, and often hard to understand. Example: “Long legs and strong hips strode her up the saddle of land on which the Herod before her stepfather had erected that which he intended to protect his lands against invasion from the east.” There’s a tiresome overuse of gerunds as adjectives: “The girls burst into the freeing sunlight of the settling afternoon.” There’s almost no dialogue; every feeling is described and explained (often incoherently) as it happens—nothing is left to the reader’s imagination. The characters do not develop or change, and the end of the book pulls a strange rabbit out of a stranger hat when it becomes clear that the actual dictation being given to our unnamed narrator is what will become known as the Gospel of Luke—written by Salomé! There’s no preparation for this in the whole backstory of Salomé, and thus no credibility for what otherwise could be an interesting idea. Needs a serious rewrite.