If there's an Old Testament figure who has been novelized more than Esther, I'm not sure who it might be. And I've read a few really good ones--even have another one queued up--but, honestly, none have been like Jewel of Persia. Are you ready for this? First, Esther isn't even the main character. Second, the Biblically identifiable story doesn't even start until (according to my Kindle) the last ten percent of the book. Wait! Stick with me. You'll be glad you did.
Ms. White has taken an extremely novel approach (okay, pun intended) to Esther's story. She begins her tale with Esther as but a young child. Her best friend and confidant, a few years her senior, is Kasia. Now you've met the main character.
Jewel of Persia takes Kasia, a beautiful Jewess from the poor quarter of Susa, into the harem of King Xerxes. She is believed to be dead by drowning, the cover story for her disappearance her father propagates when he disowns her due to the dishonor it would bring on the family. Esther mourns her loss, unaware of the truth and the role it will play in her own life a few short years into the future.
As the story progresses, Kasia captures the king's heart by loving him as a man instead of manipulating him for favors as the king. She also earns the distrust and resentment of the rest of the king's concubines and wives, including the now deposed Queen Vashti. But all of this is part of the plan, part of Jehovah's preparation for the salvation of His people. Hang on; we'll get there.
Ms. White takes us on an enthralling journey through the early years of Xerxes' reign, his costly victory over the Spartans at Thermopolae and his ill-fated clash with the Greeks at Salamis. Beginning to sound like a war book? Nope. Ever at his side, Kasia provides the balance of support and reason to her husband only a woman of her caliber in love is capable of. Through Kasia, Ms. White reveals Xerxes' personal trials, his mistakes, his uncertainties, in a campaign he felt compelled to launch for the honor of his father rather than out of his own ambition. She also weaves with remarkable skill the scheming intrigue inherent to the court and even the family of the king of all kings, most of whom aspire him to be the god beyond the man he wants to be. Stalked by Haman, who would see her dead, Xerxes' son, Darius, who would see her in his bed, and the demon-god Ahura-Mazda, who would see her influence utterly destroyed. But none has any chance against Jehovah, who would see her preserved as a dutiful child of his and as an essential part of His plan to rescue His people from a future annihilation.
Thoroughly researched and artfully penned, Ms. White delivers a wonderfully romantic story that is both historically accurate, Scripturally sound, and emotionally satisfying. Her characters display a genuinely believable depth and balance of virture and foible. Most notable was the intricacy of intrigue and guile in the politics pervading both the palace and the harem Ms. White expertly embeds into the plot. Actually, her peceptions were so cunningly portrayed, she began to worry me. Has her husband read this?
Oh! And yes, after all of this, Esther--remember her?--does get her day in the sun. :-) And another, oh! How on earth does Kasia figure into Esther's story? Huh uh. Ya gotta get the book. You won't be disappointed.