Star of Persia: Esther’s Story

Written by Jill Eileen Smith
Review by Lauren Miller

Bestselling biblical fiction author Jill Eileen Smith breathes new life into the story of Queen Esther, the titular Star of Persia, by steeping the well-trod-upon classic with secular history. Drawing inspiration from the writings of Herodotus, new characters are introduced and old ones deftly given new depth as they are concretely imagined in what daily life may have been like in ancient Persia.

A conquered people in a displaced land, the Jewish emigrants from Israel, now living in Susa, walk a tenuous line between keeping their religious and ethnic identity while surrounded by a foreign nation, led by a tempestuous king, Xerxes, who is waging war against the Greeks. Mordecai, a Jew, raises his adoptive daughter, Hadassah, to be kept apart from the other Jews, fearing the xenophobia will cause him harm as a court official, and forces Hadassah to hide her identity and take a Persian name, Esther. Those familiar with the story will find new things to love, such as the backstory for Esther and her Uncle Mordecai, preceding the infamous feasting that results in the banishing of Xerxes’ favorite wife, whom Smith casts in a softer light than in other novelizations.

The resulting beauty competition, and Esther’s marriage to Xerxes, places her at the crux of court intrigue as officials vie for power and prominence, and one man’s soaring rise to power as the king’s new favorite, polluted by the xenophobia and racism towards Esther’s people, results in the death sentence of the Jewish nation. It is this egregious evil which Queen Esther must confront, armed with her natural beauty, a faith in an unseen God, and the desperate prayers of a doomed people.