The Secret Book of Kings

Written by Yardenne Greenspan (trans.) Yochi Brandes
Review by Jackie Drohan

This is the English translation of the latest Biblical fiction offering by a popular Israeli author. Set in the tumultuous Davidic period, young Shlom’am comes of age and sets out to unravel the mystery of his bloodline – a journey that will take him to the very throne of Israel.

Brandes builds upon her flawless historicity with a profound appreciation for scripture as literature. She is unique in her ability to render complex, almost Falstaffian, characters who are themselves conscious of their place in the multigenerational narrative. Rizpah, the concubine of Saul from 2 Samuel, compares herself and her experience to Tamar, the prostitute who “stole” the seed of Judah in Genesis 38 – a mere oral tradition during the reign of Saul. While neatly defining Rizpah’s moral conundrum, Brandes presents a fascinatingly accurate timeline and mechanism of historical influence. This is authoritative scholarship brought to life, without a hint of pious overlay. The reader’s respect for the material, regardless of faith, grows with every page, and Brandes’ dynamic style and vibrant characterization keep the pages turning. The heroic but dangerously ambitious David, the “Mad Princess” Michal – we are treated to a deep dive into their relationships and motives.

The narrator accuses himself of a childhood tendency to “embellish.” A self-criticism by Brandes herself, perhaps? If so, it is charming, but she’s selling herself short. The Secret Book of Kings combines historical integrity with great and approachable storytelling.