Edghill (Queenmaker, 2002, etc.) continues her feminist take on the kings of Israel, now with a new spin on the story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
Vividly evoking ancient Israel and Sheba, Edghill deftly transforms the brief biblical account into an absorbing story replete with intrigue, love, and villains. Perhaps the most unexpected baddy is the self-righteous prophet Alijah (Elijah), who plots to undo all the peace and prosperity Solomon has achieved. The story starts out in Sheba and is told through a number of voices, including that of Bilqis herself, the Queen of Sheba; of Solomon; of Baalit, his teenaged daughter; and of Baalit’s dead mother, Abishbag, who died giving birth to Baalit. Sheba is a rich and peaceable kingdom where women are treated as equals and the monarch is always a woman. Though still stunningly beautiful, Sheba needs an heir—both daughter and granddaughter are dead, and she’s too old to bear another child. Told by the goddess she worships that she’ll find an heir in Israel, she loads ships with treasure and sails north. In Jerusalem, Solomon’s wives quarrel; Rehoboam, the heir to the throne, is a sadistic lout; and Solomon fears for his kingdom’s future. If it were possible, wise and good Baalit would succeed, but Israel is a patriarchy: Women are kept separate and cannot participate in its governance. Yet Baalit, too, dreams of serving her people, of being something more than a wife and mother. When the Queen meets Solomon, she’s impressed with his wisdom, but she is even more pleased by Baalit, the answer to her prayers. As the Queen sets about persuading Solomon to make Baalit her heir, Rehoboam and Alijah—the one jealous of Baalit, the other appalled at Solomon’s consorting with a pagan queen—scheme to betray and destroy.
Persuasive and intriguing.