by Jill Eileen Smith (website)
Christian Historical Fiction (Revell, March '09)
Synopsis: A fictionalized version of the relationship between King David of Israel and his first wife, Michal--daughter of Saul. First in a trilogy of books (the second of which just came out, and I hope to review it next week) on the Wives of King David.
On a scale of Vanilla to Dark Chocolate, I would put this in the French Vanilla category. Perhaps more sensuality than a typical inspy, but no sexuality. Not quite on the Redeeming Love level--that might be white chocolate--but definitely more overt sensuality (no sex, no body parts, but references to lust and sexuality which were completely appropriate) than a normal Christian novel. Very appropriate to its context, I thought.
Eye-Roll Factor: 6/10
Much better than I expected. The interactions with God were natural (and some of them were even straight from the Bible, which I always appreciate). The romantic interactions were quite good, for the most part. There was some eye-rolling with the God-interacting. But mostly, I was rolling my eyes at the main male character (see: Bedroom to Dining Room Factor).
The Cosmo Factor: 20/25
Michal was an interesting heroine. She was by far the most interesting person in the book, and was what kept me reading for the most part. Since she was the main character, that's a good thing. If we were gonna go out for a drink (alcoholic or non), I would definitely sit down and chat with her. I would let her buy me a drink, or I would buy my own. And I would probably be interested in most of the conversation. I like that she has flaws, and I like that she wasn't the most beautiful woman in the book. She gets Cosmo (or Hot Cocoa) points for that.
The Dining Room to Bedroom Factor: 17/25 (BEWARE: SPOILERS in this section)
Okay, first of all, the hero is King David... so marvel at that. The guy is a legend. It's hard to write a legend. And I think Smith does it pretty well. But he is just not well-developed for a primary character. Granted, the story isn't from his perspective, but as the main hero (sort of), I expected more from King David. I really liked in him in the first section and a half, and then he just started to make me angry. SPOILERS. The guy is supposed to be in love with this woman. A love like no other. The love of his life. Then, when he abandons her to save himself, he abandons her for seventeen years! And he marries a bunch of other women in the midst of it. He turns into the bad version of himself. He is not a redeemable hero in this book. Biblically speaking, I'm not saying any of this is inaccurate (see the Braveheart Factor section). But don't write them as this "love of all loves" and then have him essentially bed the first woman he meets and forget all about the love of his life. It's just not realistic. I found myself disliking him more and more as the book wore on. His self-centered-ness. His obsession with his kingship. He was not a likable guy by the end. But I adored him in the beginning. Otherwise, I probably would have given his character a very low score. We're talking single digits, here.
The Braveheart Factor: 9/10
Jill Eileen Smith has definitely done her historical homework. Very accurate to the Biblical text (even included some biblical text). So why the -1, then? Well, here's the thing. (And this was my main issue with the book.) It was almost *too* historically accurate. Where it succeeded in being true-to-history, it failed in being a good story. When an author is trying so hard to stick to history that they sacrifice characterization, narrative flow, and sense of plot... it's time to take a step back from the purpose of the book and maybe try again. The jumping time stuff is the main reason I probably won't recommend this book to anyone. But... the historical accuracy and otherwise pretty good writing will make me read the next book in the series.
The Nostalgia Re-Read Factor: 7/10
As I said in the previous section, the whole jumping time thing bothered me. Without giving away spoilers, the story jumps one year in one chapter, then two years the next chapter, then another year the next chapter, then three years, then another year. And it jumps five years right in the middle of a major romantic timeline. It was so frustrating. From a historical perspective, it almost would have been better to skip the 17 years altogether, instead of doing them one or two at a time, and then tell the whole story 17 years later. As it was, there's too much trying to stick to the exact verses of the Bible. But it was very accurate. And as a Seminary grad with a theology degree, I appreciate that. That alone will probably make me read it again. Although it will probably have to sit on my shelf for awhile.
The Skim Factor: 10/10
I didn't skim this one at all. For the first little bit, I was captivated by the love story. And then I was so frustrated by the quick passage of time, I couldn't skip anything. You skip a couple of paragraphs, and all of a sudden, everyone dies. Or ten years passes. I had to pay pretty close attention, even when I wanted to skip. And then once the time started passing, and the love story stopped, I was so mad, I kept reading just to get it to come back. Not a good reason for not-skimming. But still. I didn't skim. :-)
The Little People Factor: 7/10
In general, the minor characters were pretty well-developed. On the other hand, one of the little people who should have been more developed (if you read the book, it's Paltiel) really wasn't developed at all, apart from how much he wanted Michal. That was sort of frustrating. On the other hand, one of the minor characters that I didn't really like (like King Saul) were pretty well-done. And I loved Jonathan. He was fantastic.
Overall Evaluation: 76/100
This was not a romance novel. It is a historical Christian novel. So don't go into it expecting romance, even though it says "epic love story" on the back of the book. It's not a romance novel. There. Now, that being said, if you read it expecting to read the historical fiction version of one woman's life and transformation from a Christian perspective, you will get what you expect. The love story aspect is unfulfilling, twice-over (she loves two different men, and neither of them are ultimately satisfying). But she does get her happily-ever-after with God. So that's saying something. That being said, I think if you go into this book expecting a historical novel with some fast-forwarding, you'll enjoy it. And, of course, if you like very Biblically-accurate historical fiction, you'll probably enjoy it even more. The really positive thing, from a Christian perspective, is that she didn't try to Jesus-up the Old Testament. The spirituality was, I thought, appropriate for a Hebrew princess, and a Hebrew worldview circa 1000 BC. So all-in-all, that's what I would recommend. If you're looking for a Christian romance novel, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for accurate, well-written Biblical fiction, this is as good a place as any to get off that train.