In an alternate vein of reality, at the dawn of World War 2, lives Esther bat Josephus, the daughter of the Khazar kagnate’s kender (the leading policy advisor). Esther has seen firsthand, the terror that the Germanii enemy has the potential to rain to on her people, and while her father and country seem to sit idle, Esther feels that she alone must take action in Emily Barton’s latest novel The Book of Esther.
Esther, 16, borrows her father’s mechanical horse, Seleme, some money, some candle sticks for prayers on the road, and her adopted brother and father’s slave Itakh, 9. Esther and Itakh embark on a long and arduous journey to the mystic Kabbalists in the hopes that they can turn Esther into a boy. She knows that only as a man can she lead her people into warfare and save her country.
At the very outset, author Emily Barton sets the tone for a novel of not only magical capabilities, but also of deep introspection. Esther wants to be a boy only so that she can save her country, not because she dislikes being a girl. In fact, she is set to be married in a few months, and is begrudgingly excited about it. Esther is a conflicted woman and a conflicted Jew. There are certain elements of her sex and religion that she feels hold her back from doing her greater duty to her country, and so she seeks ways around those barriers. Esther finds that though these obstructions may exist in her mind and those of her people, perhaps they are not wholly true. Perhaps Esther does not need to be a man to lead an army. Perhaps a Torah Jew need not dismiss another for not being Jewish in the same way.
Throughout the novel the theme of exclusion features prominently. Esther is excluded because she is a girl. The Khazar kagnate is being discriminated against and excluded because of the religion that they follow. Even the Khazar excludes others who are not Jewish. At first, Esther subscribes to some of these exclusionary notions to the extent that they are all she knows, but as The Book of Esther progresses, Barton probes deeper into the disadvantages of exclusion, and she fights to show that inclusion can lead to far greater success.
A book of faith, acceptance, and rebellion, Emily Barton does a superb job of blending history with fantasy and fiction in The Book of Esther. Creating a perfectly conflicted main character, Barton ensures that her readers will stand behind Esther from page one.
Released by Tim Duggan Books on June 14, 2016, you can purchase The Book of Esther at your local bookstore.
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FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.