Israelite generals and judges organize their people against the threat of the Canaanites in a novel drawn from biblical history.
Sennett (Nicholas Rowe and the Beginnings of Feminism on the London Stage, 2005) turns to fiction in this novel based on part of the Old Testament. After the village of Beth-Tahor is destroyed in a Canaanite attack, soldiers-turned-farmers Barak and Ramor realize that their only chance for survival is to organize their fellow Israelites into an army that will fight back and end the threat of Sisera, the general who is determined to wipe out the Israelites. Although some of the tribal leaders are reluctant to fight, Deborah, one of the most respected judges of the tribes, organizes a resistance and appoints Barak to lead the army. Barak faces both military and personal setbacks as he becomes a leader with the view: “I do not want to be a savior or general or even private. I only want God to intervene and stop this persecution of His people.” He accepts leadership as his duty, however, and conceives strategy that defeats the larger and more powerful opponent. Sennett presents well-rounded and complex characters, from Deborah and her husband, Lapidoth, who does not object to his wife's leadership role, to Barak and his struggles with confidence and conscience. The battle scenes are fast-paced, giving the reader a sense of the horrors of war without dwelling on excessive violence. At times, the writing is clunky, with too much characterization crammed into a single sentence. (“While she worked her way from hut to hut, Sarah's tears flowed as this twenty-five year old woman with long, dark brown hair that reached her waist recognized the lifeless bodies of her friends and neighbors strewn across the ground like rubbish as she made her way through the devastated streets of what used to be her home town.”) The story also has jarring reminders of its historical setting: “Since there was no police force or basic infrastructure intended for area defense in the thirteenth century BC, each family and village had to provide for its own protection.” Many readers, however, will be willing to overlook the awkward prose as they get caught up in one of the lesser-known episodes of early Jewish history.
An engaging novel of ancient Israel with some ungainly writing.