The book of Esther comes to life in this vivid novel based on the Old Testament tale.
Esther became queen of Persia against all odds. She was born into peasantry, orphaned in childhood, kidnapped at 14 by soldiers of King Xerxes, and brought forcefully to serve in the king’s harem. She catches the king’s eye during their first night together, and by the following day, she is queen—despite being secretly Jewish. Kanner, whose first novel, Sinners and the Sea (2013), illustrated the life of Noah's wife, another Old Testament heroine, does a fine job describing her heroine's various struggles. We hear Esther's voice clearly, and, despite a few anachronisms, that voice is moving. Kanner embraces the erotic underpinnings of the Biblical story and includes rich descriptions of the palace harem, the other concubines, and Esther’s sexual encounters with the king. Supporting characters are equally vivid: Kanner’s descriptions are convincing and rich, though they don't reach very deep. Her handling of dialogue can sometimes sound too contemporary for the time period and at other times, archaic, even starchy. Esther has to hurry: the king’s favored adviser, Haman, has begun urging him to decimate his land’s Jewish population in order to acquire untold riches. Esther is the only one who can convince her husband to spare the Jews. Bracing as all of this is, though, it’s overshadowed by an entirely fictional subplot in which Esther falls helplessly in love with the soldier Erez. Many breathless pages are devoted to their yearnings. Kanner does offer an appealing heroine: a woman who rose to the highest position her world offered and sought to leave behind an enduring, and noble, legacy.
Kanner’s second novel is animated but ultimately fails to leave a deep impression.