A well-executed debut historical novel that melds biblical history with steamy romance, intrigue and high drama.
In this book’s introduction, Cook writes of how she researched and presented living-history characterizations of biblical women in her Scripture-study classes, which she turned into this compelling collection of eight short stories. These “scandalous women,” who, as the subtitle notes, indeed changed the course of history, include extraordinary princesses, ordinary women, and even slaves and concubines. In these stories, sisters battle one another over societal rank as viciously as their male counterparts clash over territory, and Cook’s diverse cast conveys detailed, emotional insight into a panorama of human history. Bathsheba has an affair with King David and hastily marries him. She’s a shrewd operator who gains her own degree of political power, and she gives birth to the peaceful King Solomon, author of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes and builder of the protective shrine for the sacred Ark of the Covenant. After David’s death, as Solomon’s mother, she becomes the first queen mother of Israel. Leah and Rachel each tell their side of a story that pits the two sisters against each other in a marriage-bed battle over Jacob, and Abraham’s wife Sarah, a princess, recounts how her faith journey led her to become the mother of Isaac at age 90. (Curiously, the story doesn’t include Sarah’s reaction to Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac.) Cook also gives voice to the lesser-known Hagar, Sarah’s servant slave, who, under Sarah’s orders, bore Abraham’s first son, Ishmael; in a fit of anger and jealousy, Sarah banishes both Hagar and Ishmael. The novel’s range of emotions and viewpoints make it a worthwhile read; each woman, no matter her rank or her hardship, learns the same universal lesson: Love conquers all, and mercy and forgiveness are at the heart of it. Eve, the mother of all humanity, tells her story in the book’s final chapter, a fitting closure for an exceptional narrative.
A highly readable historical novel, with enough period detail for biblical purists and enough drama and romance for secular readers.