Song of Songs: A Novel of the Queen of Sheba

Written by Marc Graham
Review by J. Lynn Else

Approximately 1300s BC: Makeda is a daughter of Saba’s chieftain and his slave wife. When her older half-sister Bilkis is lost after a violent flood, Makeda becomes her father’s heir. Through her faith and intelligence, she wins her freedom and eventually becomes chieftain. Unbeknownst to her, Bilkis survived the flood and was rescued by traveling merchants. Their travels lead her to Auriyah, a prince of Urusalim who captures his father’s throne and makes Bilkis his queen. Meanwhile, in Kemet, Yetzer saves Pharaoh Horemheb’s life during an accident at his father’s worksite. Afterward, Yetzer is given a place by pharaoh’s side. Twists of choice and chance propel Yetzer’s life to highs, lows, and everywhere in between. Eventually, these three people unite in the city of Urusalim under the shadow of the great temple, where good and evil collide.

The characters feel well-developed and possess strong voices. I enjoyed the intricacies that brought the main characters together. The narrative switches between Makeda in first-person to Yetzer and Bilkis in third-person are smooth. The story also employs some fantasy elements. However, Graham’s twist on well-known historical figures is a bit jarring. Many characters and legends are drastically changed, most particularly the worship of YHWH, which Graham splits into two: Ya (male) and Havah (female). Even Solomon’s acts of wisdom are darkly carried out by different characters. Graham explains his extensive research and plot choices. Despite this, King David is so well-known to Abrahamic faiths that this interpretation of his house made it hard to invest in the Urusalim plot threads.

Overall, the story didn’t feel like the story of the Queen of Sheba, and unfamiliar elements involving David and Solomon detracted from my overall enjoyment. However, the setting is immersive, and the prose is lyrically engaging. There’s much to savor in Graham’s writing.