Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book Review [The Queen's Handmaid]

The Queen's Handmaid
Tracy L. Higley

Publisher:  Thomas Nelson
Genre:  YA, Historical Fiction
Released:  2014

[rear cover]
A jealous Egyptian queen.
A lascivious Galilean governor.
A beautiful servant girl.
Theirs is a story of prophecy, self-discovery, and revelation.

          The year is 39 BC.  All of Alexandria awaits the arrival of Herod, the Galilean governor with his eye on the Judean kingship.  The handmaid of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, receives a troubling visit from her aging mentor.
          An orphan since birth, Lydia lives in the palace at the demand of Cleopatra and her royal child, the son of Julius Caesar.  But Lydia has a growing problem on her hands: her beauty is becoming a liability to the aging queen, and the visiting Herod's undisguised interest only make matters worse.
          When Lydia's mentor is murdered, the handmaid inherits a daunting task.  An ancient set of sealed scrolls, the secret writings of the prophet Daniel, must be returned to the Israelites depends on it.  So Lydia leaves the palace to serve as lady's maid to Herod's wife in the Holy City.
          As Lydia is absorbed into the machinations of Herod's household, her mission--and her people's hope of a Messianic King--are endangered at every turn.  Can Lydia avoid the adulterous intentions of Herod?  Can she deliver the scrolls to the mysterious man on the steps of the Temple?  Will the true King of Israel ever rise?

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WARNING: Possible Spoilers

If you are a fan of historical fiction, particularly when it is set in places like Rome, Judea, and Egypt, than you will love this novel!

Forewarning!  This is rather a lengthy review. . .  :D

[The Basics]
This tale centers on a young servant girl and her journey of faith as a child of the One God.  She has grown up Egyptian, knowing nothing of her parents and feeling all her life she had been abandoned as worthless.  She soon learns she is so much more.  Her life takes an unexpected turn, where she goes from being the queen-Pharoah Cleopatra's handmaid to lady's maid of Marc Antony's (Roman politician and general, and lover of Cleopatra) wife, Octavia, sister of Octavian, who later became Caesar Augustus (long story).  Her role as maid for Octavia was brief, as they were only passing through Rome and on to Masada where she would become the handmaid of Mariamme, bride of King Herod (who became the psycho/murderer Herod the Great--the wicked king who asked the wise men the birth location of our King Jesus).

Since leaving Egypt, Lydia had been given an important role by her dying mentor, regarding sacred scrolls, yet sealed, of the writings of Daniel.  As their keeper, she was charged to bring them to the steps of the Temple in the Holy City of Jerusalem and into the hands of the Chakkiym (pro. kahk-keem), men specifically chosen and trained generation after generation to await the arrival of the precious scrolls, which were said to hold prophecies of a coming Messiah.

[Positives]
Lydia constantly doubts her abilities and worthiness, but there is always a friend to comfort her and drive away the depressing thoughts.

She finds friendship with the Queen Mariamme, wife of Herod, her mistress.  Their relationship brings them as close as sisters.

Despite her personal losses, Lydia learns to open up to others.  She loves the feeling of being needed, of having a place to belong.  She has an outward beauty that everyone sees, but also an inward beauty that symbolizes a gentle and quiet spirit.

[Negatives]
Though she loves to feel needed and loves to love others, she tries to distance herself for fear of losing them, as she has lost so many that she came to care for.  This causes her to be wary of relationships, unwilling to let anyone get close to her heart.

Upon discovering her true birthright, Lydia and a close friend, fall apart, avoiding each other if possible (but they eventually reconcile).  :]

[Spiritual Content]
Christian fiction!  There is an important theme throughout the whole of the story: Faith in the One God yields power, mercy, and unconditional love.  In Him, Lydia finds true worth and strength.

A woman openly worships a goddess who grants her dark powers, that seem like magic.  From Lydia's perspective, she claims she feels the darkness.  On two or three different occasions, the dark woman attempts to kill Lydia only to be stopped by an invisible force that leaves her perplexed and terrified.  This is an example of the supernatural powers, both good and evil, that wage unseen war.

Lydia, while raised in an Egyptian palace with knowledge of the peoples' gods and goddesses, was taught in the ways of the One God by her mentor, Samuel.  Only later does she come to realize and fully follow His ways.

[Violence]
Politics play a huge part.  And where politics are, there seems to be war also.  Men (and women) are killed, wounded, tortured, and whipped.  Two young men drown (years apart with no relation to the other), both said to be accidents, but it is obvious one had been planned.

A woman is executed by hanging.  A man and woman both commit suicide (part of factual history, actually).  Another man is strangled, and it is mentioned a couple different times the fact that his ears were cut off in order that he would not be eligible for a high position.

Blood and gore, mentioned in detail at times.  Bodies litter courtyards and Temple steps.

[Language, Drugs & Alcohol]
Parties and banquets boast amphorae of wine.  Much drinking at these shindigs, a couple men are said to be drunk.

[Love-y Content]
While this novel is a Christian story, it is also romance.  And need I say more about the era and legacy left by Cleopatra, and her lovers?  Kings (and queens) marry, divorce, and have affairs.  The whole thing is just one big mess.

A poet takes a great interest in the beautiful Lydia, but nothing happens, they simply roam the gardens and talk.  Another servant girl, Riva, is very sensual and tries too hard to please others.  Royalty is accused of taking other royals/servants/guards to their beds.

Lydia, unexpectedly (and yet, it is expected) falls for a man who works as the palace manager.  Though harsh and rough on the outside, she sees what the others do not: a compassionate heart, a loyal patriot.  They share a few kisses and embraces.

[Conclusion]
I loved this book.  It is filled to the brim with historical facts (mixed with fiction, of course), places, and characters.  And while I'm not too fond of that era with Cleopatra, Herod, and the Roman/Parthian/Judean wars, I couldn't pass up on this story.  If you love history and romance, I would definitely recommend this one.  Each page had me wishing for the next, and an unexpected plot twist near the end made me love it even more.  You'll probably want to cry during some scenes and/or rage in others, then maybe shout a cheer of encouragement as a character stands up for what's right.  And through it all God's love for His people is evident.

To conclude, this is a great novel and a definite favorite.  :]

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Recommended ages:  16+

I was provided a copy of this book, thanks to BookLookBloggers.com, for my honest review.

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1 comment:

Lauriloth said...

Okay, this book sounds awesome. I'm totally going to go put it on my GoodReads to-read shelf. Thank you for the review! I've never heard of this one before, but now I really want to read it.