A Reluctant Queen, by Joan Wolf

How many historical fiction retellings of Queen Esther can we have? Well, make room for one more that definitely earned its place on my bookshelf. The author makes it clear that she skews a little from the Biblical version for the sake of turning a short story into a novel, but she in no way takes away from the bravery of so many people in the incredible journey of this young queen.

What made this book different than the rest was the personal take on the characters. Esther wasn't depicted as the infallible, totally-submissive-to-the-will-of-God, perfect beauty we sometimes imagine. Instead, her conflicts and struggles are real, and she is a person we can identify with. She wrestles with her decisions, often very unsure of which way she should go and doubting her choices once she makes them. We feel her sense of being betrayed, of abandonment, of culture shock, and her fear and confusion in how to deal with circumstances that go from bad to worse before resolving.

Esther finds herself in the king's harem, earns the good graces of those working there and later of the king himself, and moves into the position of queen. She uses her position to affect change at various levels, from the castle to the harem. She eventually learns of a plot to annihilate her people, the very people she has neglected to claim as part of her identity. She must decide if losing the love and trust of the king she has fallen in love with is worth the risk she could take to possibly help her kinsmen. Her decision changed history.

I enjoyed this book on so many levels. Knowing the actual account in the book of Esther, I was touched by the challenges this real life hero had to overcome. I was engrossed in the fictional plots because they were well-developed. I found inspiration by realizing the source of Esther's--and my--strength. I look forward to reading more by Joan Wolf.

**I read this book courtesy of www.booksneeze.com, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishing.

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