Star of Persia
by Jill Eileen Smith
My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Biblical fiction
When the queen of Persia refuses an unreasonable demand of King Xerxes, she is banished. Jewish girl Esther, known as Hadassah for her first fifteen years, is one of many unmarried women who are brought to the palace to contend to be Xerxes’s next wife. Made queen in place of Vashti, Esther and her adopted father Mordecai have to navigate palace politics and eventually, it’s up to Esther to save all of her people from extermination.
Though the Biblical account of Esther is commonly known by most who would read this book, I liked the way the author brought it to life. The struggles that those would have faced due to the politics, culture, and religions of that day were not glossed over. It’s common, and even somewhat necessary, for the author to take creative license in some areas, as not all details are ever known in a Biblical account, and while I didn’t necessarily agree with everything the author chose to do, I don’t think any of it detracted from the story.
I loved the way that Mordecai, who had chosen to stay in Susa when the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem, struggled with his decision to keep his heritage a secret. We all know that even the most prominent figures in the Bible (besides God himself) were flawed humans, some more than others, and that is clear with the two main Jews in this book as well. I also think that the way Xerxes was portrayed was realistic, considering that he does often consult others, even his servants, in the Biblical account, so his character in this book was fleshed out from that perspective, and I loved it.
As I mentioned above, I disagree with one main point the author decided on. It is not immediately evident who King Ahasuerus is in the Biblical account, due to language differences, I believe. He seems to be most commonly accepted to be Xerxes. However, Xerxes has only 1 verified wife–Amestris. I did not do nearly as much research as Smith must have for this book, but I see more evidence that Amestris is another name for Vashti, or even possibly for Esther herself. So having a rival wife that is actually directly or indirectly behind much of the shady things that happen in the account seemed unnecessary to me. However, it did provide more intrigue for the fictional version, and while I would have chosen a different route, I respect her decision and am not saying whatsoever that the book was any worse for it.
I would say the writing itself was what mainly detracted from the story for me. I personally think there was at least one POV too many. The story was told from the following perspectives: Esther, Mordecai, Xerxes, Vashti, Haman, and Amestris. If I’m missing one, I wouldn’t be surprised. But I think we could have done without getting to know Vashti, considering what her parts set up aren’t resolved. And she’s just a shadow of the true heroine anyway. There are also a couple of things that happen with Haman that confused me, like him grumbling about his wife and her back-talk, when the entire rest of the book, she seemed nothing but supportive to me, giving him advice that he followed. He even called her wise at one point. Then suddenly, he’s about ready to punish her if she opens her mouth again. I don’t know what was going on there.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. I am one who tends to read romance (not just romance in the traditional sense) into certain accounts in the Bible as I’m reading, and it’s nice to see it come alive in this way. I will likely re-read this someday, but first, I plan to check out Smith’s take on Ruth, which is my favorite book in the Bible. As for Esther’s story, though, I highly recommend it to fans of Biblical fiction.
If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!