Review of The Queen’s Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley

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Genre: Historical Fiction

Recommended!

An orphan from birth, Lydia is raised in Cleopatra’s palace, and becomes the personal handmaiden to her son, Caesarion (Ptolemy Caesar, son of Julius Caesar). She is also trained in the ways of the God of Israel by her Jewish father-figure, Samuel, an old man who also works in the service of Cleopatra. When Samuel is killed, Lydia is left with a mission larger than herself–to deliver the ancient scroll of Daniel to the Chakkyim (Aramaic for “Wise Men”). In order to fulfill Samuel’s last directive to her, she becomes a handmaiden to Herod’s wife Mariamme I, where she finds danger, adventure, romance, and discovers her true identity in more ways than one.

The novel begins in 39 BC and spans several years, locations, and people, particularly expanding on the relationships between Egypt (Cleopatra), Rome (Marc Antony), the Idumeans (Herod and his family), the Hasmonean Jews (especially Mariamme and her brother Octavian, who became called “Augustus Caesar”), and the Jewish Zealots. I am not too familiar with this period, and enjoyed learning along with the story, which follows the historical account pretty closely.

There were a few chapters where the years and locations changed in a way that was easy enough to follow chronologically, but more difficult to connect to the characters because of the quick transitions. It may have helped to simply introduce the date and location within the chapter header as the first chapter had done, so that the reader is emotionally prepared for the new setting rather than caught off guard as the chapter unfolds. As I was reading these few chapters, I began to consider that maybe I did not like the book much after all, because it began to feel too plot-focused, and I was struggling to stay connected to the characters as I tried to piece together the events.

I am so glad I kept reading! The story picks up as the physical setting and time became more settled, and the characters’ personalities began to resolve in a dramatic way. The last half of the reading was everything I enjoy in a novel: a thorough historical backdrop, deep character tensions and personalities, mystery, action, and romance–and there was even a bit of realistic “charismatic” spiritual action between the sorcery of one of the characters and the power of God emanating fluidly through His servant, Lydia.

I have read and enjoyed a handful of Higley’s books, and appreciate the extra research that went into making this one especially memorable. It is one I will likely read again.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

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