Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn

Synopsis: The story follows the Book of Esther very closely: Xerxes banishes his wife Vashti and sets about finding a new wife by claiming all the young virgins in the kingdom of Persia for his perusal and delectation. Esther, born Hadassah, is a young Jewish orphan, remanded to the custody of her cousin Mordechai, to whom she is betrothed. Mordechai attends to the King at the Palace, but no one knows that he is a Jew. He warns Hadassah to take the name Esther when she is swept up by the King's edict, and not to reveal her heritage.
After a year of being pampered by court slaves, Esther is presented to the King. He is instantly smitten and makes her his Queen. Esther longs for Mordechai but succumbs to the blandishments of the King to save herself from being sent to the soldiers--a horrible fate. In the course of Palace intrigue, Haman, a truly evil man who is viewed as a trusted servant of the King, plots to kill Mordechai, who will not bow to him, and ultimately to kill all the Jews in the Kingdom. King Xerxes, a bit of a buffoon both in the Bible and in Kohn's book, is languishing under the effects of idleness and too much wine. He gives Haman his signet ring; Haman drafts the edict which will result in the death of the Jews and seals it with the King's ring. Now, Esther must save her people. (from the back of the book)

Review: I read this book, thinking it was one I read as a teenager. It was not. However, I was delightfully surprised how I enjoyed it. Kohn was meticulous in her research regarding ancient Persia and this gives the book an anchor in reality often missing during the fictionalization of Biblical stories.
Told exclusively from Esther's point of view, this follows her from her childhood to her days shortly after the King's death.
Kohn did an excellent job of bringing to life the characters without over-dramatizing them or making them one-dimensional. The book was sparse in words and descriptions, but what was there is beautifully written.
My only qualm was the sometimes gratuitous sex described between the King and Esther. It didn't add anything to the story and seemed merely a ploy to sensationalize the story.
Overall, this is an fine retelling, staying as faithful to the original tale as possible and I appreciate that in the author.

Bookmarks: 7 of 10

Awards: None

Date Finished: 4-27-2011
Pages: 353

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