Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: The Desert Princess by Jill Eileen Smith

The Desert Princess (The Loves of King Solomon #1)
By: Jill Eileen Smith
Publisher: Revell


I've been long overdue for the opportunity to read a Jill Eileen Smith novel. Having devoured all three installments of her first series, The Wives of King David, her subsequent stories have -- sadly -- found themselves lost in my toppling to-be-read pile. Happily, The Desert Princess provides the perfect solution for those like myself craving a quick trip into her richly-imagined biblical world. This brief novella is the first of a proposed series exploring the Solomon through the eyes of the women in his life. And with 700 wives and princesses and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3), Smith has a veritable wealth of potential "loves" from which to choose her characters...but with a catch. Compared to the sheer number of women in his life, the verses devoted to fleshing out any of their characters and experiences are incredibly sparse. But Smith has more than earned the right to a little artistic license in my view, for her stories exploring the lives of Michal, Abigail, and Bathsheba reflect her knowledge, understanding, and passion for scripture and the history reflected within its pages.

The Desert Princess tells the story of Naamah the Ammonite, mentioned once in scripture as the mother of Solomon's son, Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:21). Smith sets her story during one of the most turbulent periods of David's reign -- when he fled Jerusalem from his son Absalom. She posits that Shobi the Ammonite who provisioned David and his company, mentioned in 2 Samuel 17:27, could have been Naamah's father -- and thus Solomon's introduction to the woman who would bear his heir. And thus the stage is set for a lovesick princess to fall in love with David's favorite son. There's more supposition than fact here, which I am typically intolerant of in biblical fiction. However, Smith has little to go on when characterizing Naamah, so allowances must be made.

My biggest issue with this novella is that it is simply too short to do justice to Smith's talent for bringing biblical stories to life within the pages of her writing. That aside, this is a promising start to the Solomon series, as she uses the heavily fictionalized Naamah to frame Solomon at a critical point in his youth -- favored but not yet proclaimed David's heir. Naamah's interactions with Solomon hint at the wisdom to come by revealing his facility for wordplay as well as his penchant for pleasure. I look forward to discovering how Smith both frames an older Solomon in further novellas and gives a plausible, sympathetic voice to the now silent women who once inhabited his world.

About the book:

Solomon captured her heart. But can she hold on to his?

King David is running for his life with his young son Solomon in tow when Naamah first encounters the prince. Her father is loyal to the king, and that loyalty will be sealed years later--through the marriage of Solomon and Naamah. 

For her part, Naamah is happy to wed the handsome prince and enter into palace life. But all is not well in Jerusalem. Solomon must navigate constant threats to his life--even from within the palace walls. And when peace is restored, can Naamah ever be truly happy as she watches the love of her life taking more wives?

Join bestselling author Jill Eileen Smith as she weaves a tale of young love, heartbreaking betrayal, and the power of forgiveness, all against the vivid backdrop of one of the most tumultuous times in Israel's history.

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