Mesu Andrews has taken on the task of bringing the Old Testament Scriptures to life by intermingling factual accounts with fictional subplots to recreate the story of King Hezekiah and his wife, Queen Hephzibah. The tale begins in 732 BCE with five year old Ishma and her new found friend twelve year old Yaira being forced to march from Bethlehem to Samaria by the Israeli soldiers who killed their parents. Their relocation to Samaria is rejected and they find themselves as refugees headed towards Jericho where they are met by the prophet Micah, Yaira’s brother, who leads them both to safety in Jerusalem to become members of the household of Isaiah. Ishma, who has remained mute since witnessing her mother’s violent death, is able to assist King Ahaz son, Hezekiah, recoup from his own traumatic experience, blaming himself for his brother’s role as a living sacrifice to appease the gods.
The Profit Isaiah has been chastised for his prophesies predicting the wrathful Yahweh’s punishment against Judah due to the numerous false idols worshipped by his chosen people. His new task, a demotion, is to teach the young royals and other sons of the prominent members of court. Ishma, now a soothing companion to Hezekiah, joins the group, despite being a girl. Her perceptiveness makes her a good sparring partner in the discussions on God’s laws. The times are volatile, with Assyria demanding tributes and threatening war against the nearby communities. At twelve, Hezekiah begins his training as a soldier and eventually accompanies his father on the road as they negotiate with their enemies and try to develop alliances. Hezekiah, with the title of co-regent, carefully observes, adhoring, yet recognizing the ingenuity behind his vicious father’s actions. When given the chance, Hezekiah vows to destroy the pagan temples and return to Yahweh, the one true God. His childhood companion, Ishma, now adopted by Isaiah with the name of Hephzibah, becomes his Queen and they rule together attempting to broker a peace, despite the continued threat from the Assyrian Army.
Led by both biblical text and written history from this time period, Andrews’ Isaiah’s Daughter, the first in the Prophets and Kings series, successfully recreates the scriptures making them more approachable for the average reader. Each chapter begins with a biblical quote, many of them prophecies, from the books of Kings and Chronicles as well as Isaiah and the Psalms. There is an annotated list of names, indicating which are fictional and which are historical figures. The narrative text also includes some first person accounts, usually by Ishma, but other characters as well. A map of the area helps the reader visualize the locations of the numerous “frenemies”. While the main setting is Jerusalem, the conflicts bring the warring neighbors into the mix. Andrews takes her time developing the characters from their childhood antics into their role as rulers. A little more than halfway into the book the story slows down and tends to drag (which could easily have been resolved by eliminating the nonessential plot points), however, the astonishing chronicled events leading up to the climax are worth the wait.
This is a fascinating look into the scriptures, as well as a thought provoking perspective on the Middle East. Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.