Queen Esther has always been portrayed as one of the most heroic women in the history of Judaism, taking brave and selfless steps to save her people from destruction. Yet despite having a book named after her in the Tanakh, we still have a very limited amount of knowledge about her and where she came from. Enter Rebecca Kanner (rebeccakanner.com) and her new novel, Esther. After reading her first book, Sinners and the Sea, which was told from the perspective of Noah’s wife during the great flood, I was looking forward to another strong, intelligent, fiery female character. I wasn’t disappointed.
Kanner builds on the information about Esther and her ancient culture to create a much more in-depth character—one that grows with every step of the journey in her rise to queen and beyond. And unlike the story we know, this is a character that does not rise to her position solely because of her beauty, but also because of her intelligence, social skills and bravery. It’s a modern take on a female heroine.
From the moment 14-year-old Esther is ripped from her home in the dead of night and marched across the desert by King Xerxes’ elite soldiers, we begin to see that she’s smart enough to realize what she’s up against. Each decision could be the difference between life and death; or at least a more comfortable life in the king’s harem versus the humiliation of being a concubine for the soldiers. Standing in her way of quietly fitting in is her own stubborn, passionate personality and desire to protect those she cares about. In the first part of her journey she finds a protector in one of those elite soldiers, Erez, with whom she will develop a, shall we say, “complex” relationship. He helps her safely navigate the desert and potential social pitfalls on the journey to the palace in Shushan where things only get more difficult and dangerous for Esther. Life in the harem is filled with luxury and beauty, but that’s just the surface. It’s a cutthroat atmosphere where Esther needs to identify her friends and enemies quickly. She needs to secure her position and figure out how to captivate the king, all while attempting to overcome the attempts on her life and reputation. Intrigue, politics and action abound in Xerxes’ palace.
Our local author has managed to once again bring to life a strong, but underdeveloped voice from Jewish history. There are portions that are graphic, sometimes difficult to read, but those moments are powerful and speak to the truth of the world in which Esther lived. It’s an extremely worthwhile read, especially for readers who love historical fiction with a strong, female heroine.
Esther is released on November 3 from Simon & Schuster Books. Rebecca Kanner will be talking about the book at local events next month.