Review: Esther by Rebecca Kanner

Posted November 2, 2015 by Lillian in Reviews / 1 Comment

I received this book via Edelweiss. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Review: Esther by Rebecca KannerEsther by Rebecca Kanner
Published by Howard Books on 2015-11-03
Length: 400 pages
Reviewing eARC from Edelweiss

From the award-winning author of Sinners and the Sea comes a breathtaking new look into the timeless tale of Queen Esther.

A glittering Persian king has a vast empire that reaches farther than where the sun meets the horizon. He is bathed in riches and commands a frightening military force. He possesses power beyond any other mortal man and rules his kingdom as a god. Anything he desires, he has. Any woman he wants, he possesses. Thousands of them. Young virgins from all across his many lands.

A Jewish girl is ripped from her hut by the king’s brutish warriors and forced to march across blistering, scorched earth to the capitol city. Trapped for months in the splendid cage of the king’s palace, she must avoid the ire of the king’s concubines and eunuchs all while preparing for her one night with the king. Soon the fated night arrives, and she does everything in her power to captivate the king and become his queen.

But wearing the crown brings with it a new set of dangers. When a ruthless man plies the king’s ear with whispers of genocide, it is up to the young queen to prevent the extermination of the Jews. She must find the strength within to violate the king’s law, risk her life, and save her people.

This is a story of finding hidden depths of courage within one’s self. Of risking it all to stand up for what is right.

This is the story of Queen Esther.

Many Christians (especially women) know the story of brave Hadassah, entering the throne room of the king unannounced to save her people. She is an icon in biblical history, a legend passed down through the generations. In Esther by Rebecca Kanner, she is seen in a new light. She is given more than just a pretty face. She is given free will, stubbornness, and a fighter’s courage. She is both brave and frightened at the power she wields, but wield it she does in this beautiful retelling of the biblical Queen Esther and her mark on history.

The author does something fantastic with this book that I’m not sure I can describe. She weaves the biblical account with what is known in history. This is done so seamlessly that the book flows and gives a beauty to the characters and their world. Does she take some liberties? Absolutely! But none so great that it alters the meaning of Esther’s story or her contribution to history. In the author’s note, she says:

Becoming queen is no easy task. I’ve never been satisfied with the assumption that many come away with after reading the Book of Esther: the king made Esther queen because she was beautiful. With hundreds of beautiful girls for the king to choose from, a girl would have been foolish to rely solely on her beauty. Esther is smart enough to quickly win the favor of Hegai, and smart enough to listen to him.

The author humanizes Esther in a way that makes her both real and relatable. At the tender age of 14, she is stolen from her home by the king’s Immortals and taken to the palace to be either the king’s new wife or one of many concubines. She had no hope for herself, save that she did not want to be just another concubine. She does what she must to survive the harem during the one year purification. Then wisely listens to Hegai as he instructs her on how to behave during her night with the king. Her emotions are raw, as any girl her age would be. She’s rash in her decisions, but quick to learn from not just her mistakes but the mistakes of those she counts as friends. Esther is fierce, loyal, and devoted.

In addition to Esther, the author creates an amazing cast of characters. Some are mentioned in the biblical account, others are fiction. These characters come to life in a way that is sorely lacking in other books I’ve read. I could hear the anguished cries of virgins their first night in the harem. I could picture the leer from Ammon during Esther’s first meeting with him. I could hear the plea in Erez’s voice for forgiveness for what he has done. These are not characters I will forget anytime soon!

But perhaps my favorite character aside from Esther herself was the king, Xerxes. Xerxes is depicted as a very lonely man, grieving for his queen, and placing his trust in the wrong men. My heart broke for this king as does Esther’s. He is harsh and can be cruel, but he can also be gentle and kind, even loving in his care for her. Can you tell I fell in love?! My heart broke time and time again for him and Esther, for their differences, for their misunderstandings, but ultimately for the love that neither dared say to the other.

The plot follows the plot of the biblical account. Ammon orders the destruction of the Jews and it is up to Esther to stop it. I loved the build up to this. I knew it was coming as I have read the Book of Esther many times, but the story isn’t just about this main plot. It really focuses on Esther, who she is and what molds her into the queen of legend. When she questions her ability to fulfill the task God has given her, her servant Ruti says:

God chooses cowards to be brave, barren women to give birth to prophets, passionate men to be patient, and a man who stutters to command his people through the desert. So it is not surprising that He has chosen a drunken girl who pouts and sulks like a child to save our people.

Overall Esther is one of the best books I’ve read this year. The author depicts the characters in such a relatable manner that it is hard not to fall in love with them. Her ability to weave the Book of Esther with historical facts while still remaining true to the original is no easy task and she does it beautifully! If you enjoy historical fiction, romance, and intrigue, than this is the book for you.

Final Conclusion:


About Rebecca Kanner

Rebecca Kanner holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Fiction Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. Her writing has won an Associated Writing Programs Award, a Loft Mentorship Award and a 2012/2013 Minnesota State Arts Board Grant. Her stories have been published in numerous journals including The Kenyon Review and The Cincinnati Review. Her personal essay, "Safety," is a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2011. The Sinners and the Sea is her first book.

"I didn't mean to write a novel about Noah's wife. But just a few pages into what I thought would be a short story I realized I didn't want to stop. A 500 year old man that everyone thinks is crazy, a host of vulgar sinners, a world on the verge of destruction.... For me, this material was irresistible."

Along with other authors including Anita Diamant, Michael Cunningham, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks and Ron Hansen, Rebecca will be featured in the upcoming title Truthful Fictions: Conversations with American Biographical Novelists.


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