Veteran romance novelist Joan Wolf takes the Biblical story of Esther and in the 255-page novel A Reluctant Queen transforms the humble Jewish girl, Esther, her courageous Uncle Mordecai, the typically Persian king Ahasuerus, and the evil Edomite Haman. Esther becomes a 21st-century-like woman who only wants what is best for the people around her (and she will decide what is best); Uncle Mordecai is a self-serving non-entity; the beautiful King Ahasuerus is so beautiful men and women alike marvel at his beauty and lust after his “horseman’s muscles”; and Haman’s sole motivation for wishing destruction upon the Jewish people is love for the king.
This is not a work of historical fiction, it is a romance, and as a work of romance fiction we cannot expect it to adhere to the details of the Biblical narrative. What we could expect is for the story to adhere to the time period in which it occurred. This was not what the author delivered. The Reluctant Queen comes across as a 21st-century romance in which the actors dressed up in the finery of the Ancient Near East but forgot to speak and act the part of Ancient Near East people.
The purpose of the book was page 83, the “kiss,” and the king’s hands moving “slowly and knowledgeably” over Esther’s body. (This is, after all, a romance novel.) Page 86 declares the premise for the rest of the book: Esther must not fall in love with Ahasuerus. Esther fails at this but does manage to dismantle the king’s palace structure. Who needs a harem when they have Esther. And those eunuchs? Give them stylish uniforms, they’ll love it. Every eunuch loves a man in uniform.
The novel concludes with a Reading Group Guide, suggesting the work should be read and discussed as a Bible-like study. While historical fiction can sometimes be studied profitably in conjunction with the historical document(s) upon which it is based, this work of romance fiction does not rise to the level where this would be either helpful or appropriate.
Recommended for Joan Wolf fans who have come to love and appreciate her writing style.
I received an e-book from Thomas Nelson publishers in exchange for a review of the work.