The Last Queen of Sheba
When the ruling council controlling Sheba can’t decide who to appoint as the new queen, Tamrin, a wealthy and itinerant merchant, is tasked with traveling home to Africa to bring back Makeda, his crippled but beautiful and beloved niece, for consideration. On their journey, Makeda witnesses the suffering of her people and, after her coronation, pledges to improve conditions in her country. Tamrin, much impressed by Solomon of Israel, takes Makeda to Jerusalem to learn how to rule from the great king. While there, Solomon and Makeda fall in love and, against her sacred vows to remain a virgin, she becomes pregnant. She hides the pregnancy and her slave, who is also her cousin, raises her son as her own. Once he is grown, he visits Solomon only to find Israel in disarray and the king a ruined shadow of his former self.
Having long been fascinated by the tantalizing story of the Queen of Sheba, I was looking forward to reading this book. And while the author clearly knows her time period and is able to evoke the sense of the people and the politics, I was disappointed. Ultimately, I felt I never truly got to know Makeda as a woman because Tamrin, Makeda’s uncle, is the narrator. About halfway through, it hit me that the book was more about Tamrin’s admiration for Solomon than for Makeda, and that her story was traced through the men around her—Tamrin himself and the priests with whom he has long discussions of politics and religion, Makeda’s father, Solomon, and, finally, Makeda’s son. While the book opens a window on an intriguing Bible story, I longed to hear Makeda speak for herself.