In this debut historical novel, a Gibeonite boy and his community prepare for the coming invasion of Hebrews from across the Jordan River.
Keshub’s chief job, at 12, is tending his family’s sheep flock in Canaan’s Aijalon Valley, but he has big dreams beyond becoming a potter like his father: he’d like to be a soldier or a caravanner and have adventures. For now, he practices fighting skills and listens eagerly to caravanners’ tales. Reports say that the Hebrews, a “curious bunch” who left Egypt some time ago, are getting closer to Canaan, accompanied by unnatural phenomena: “a strange cloud over them by day and a glowing column of light by night.” A nearer danger is the Amorites, whose ruthless king uses the Hebrew threat to consolidate power and force allegiance to his bloodthirsty god, Molech. The Gibeonites refuse an alliance and instead prepare for an invasion. As the months go by and the Hebrews take cities, slaves, and plunder, Keshub matures quickly in all he undertakes: he learns to make pottery, gets to accompany his trader uncle to Jerusalem and Jericho, becomes a platoon leader, and starts spying on the Hebrews. Keshub confronts many moral questions throughout, and wonders if the Hebrews’ God is the same as the Gibeonites’ invisible Creator God, the Star Namer. Keshub’s people face a hard choice: fight and certainly lose, or humble themselves and become the Hebrews’ “servants, woodcutters, and water-carriers.” Consolver gives readers a bold, intriguing premise: the biblical story of the Hebrews conquering Canaan—from the point of view of the conquered. She succeeds almost too well in depicting the Hebrews as frightening, thieving invaders; modern readers, in fact, may find it difficult to believe that the Gibeonites could accept their curse of slavery as “hope” and “salvation” simply because they’re allowed to survive (perhaps suggesting history is written by the victors). Still, Consolver makes Keshub’s ancient world and its everydayness so lively, with accounts of meals, weddings, childbirth, trade, and so on, that this hurdle may not be too high for enjoyment.
A vivid, well-researched coming-of-age story set in Canaan with a thought-provoking hook.