Ugh. I loved this book (with a few minor annoyances throughout the text that I overlooked) until the very end, when I realized I knew exactly how it was going to end. And I thought, I’ve just invested HOURS in this?! (Spoiler alert: I really can’t review this book without giving away the end.)
The story takes place during the time of the first century church, seventy years after Jesus’ crucifixion and after the fall of Rome. The main character is Hadasseh, a Jewish slave girl raised a Christian, the daughter of the Widow of Nain’s son whom Jesus raised from the dead. She is sold to the Roman Valerian family, and she’s utter perfection. Never once in the entire story does she feel sorry for herself, consider her own needs (even when to do so wouldn’t conflict with anyone else’s), defend herself, retaliate, or fail to selflessly love everyone around her, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. As a result of her quiet spirit, even though she’s described as homely at the beginning, the family comes to rely on and adore her–mostly. She is the lady Julia’s slave, and Julia simultaneously needs her and then later comes to resent her for her goodness, as it shines a light on how evil Julia is becoming. Julia’s brother Marcus also lives an utterly hedonistic life, but Hadasseh’s peace and faith causes him to fall in love with her. She loves him too, but even when he offers to marry her, she refuses because of the scripture that says one should not be yoked to an unbeliever. It is this that leads her now thoroughly corrupted mistress to sell her to the Roman arena to be fed to the lions. I understand that’s historically accurate and happened to many Christians, but as a reader I feel a bit betrayed; perhaps not all stories end happily but I would never have bought the book, had I known it was a story of a martyr. I don’t care to invest my time in entertainment that’s bleak; there’s enough of that in real life, thanks.
The story also follows Atretes, a Greek gladiator who later becomes Julia’s lover. His story wasn’t the one I was primarily invested in, though they came to intertwine toward the end.
There really wasn’t any redemption for any of them. It was a story of evil triumphing over good in the actual story, though I could tell the author thought there was spiritual redemption. I think this might have been true, had the story been told differently–but this story glorified Hadasseh, not God. She was basically Jesus (who was a perfect reflection of God the Father, by the way–but certainly not the way Hadasseh described God the Father). Repeatedly throughout the story, other characters asked her what her God had ever done for her, and why she loved Him so much when He was the author of so much suffering. Her answer was that “God wounds, that He might also heal,” and “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (a misquote of scripture–technically correct, but very out of context, akin to the way Satan quoted Deuteronomy to Jesus in the wilderness). She attributed all the horrific suffering of that century to Him, while she was patient and loving through every imaginable evil and betrayal. No wonder all the characters in the story fell in love with her, but not with God through her. Based on these clear hints of the author’s theology, I should have guessed how it would end.
God is GOOD. He doesn’t do bad things so that He can glorify Himself through evil. That’s Satan. We shouldn’t confuse the Hero with the villain.
My rating: ** (would have been 4 1/2 if it had ended differently)
Violence: present but no more than necessary given the setting
Sexual content: present but in a fade-to-black kind of way
Political content: present, though surprisingly on the right rather than left side of the political spectrum. Surprised she hasn’t been cancelled yet.