I received a free ebook copy of this novel courtesy of NetGalley and Revell Reads in exchange for an honest review. This is the second book by Jill Eileen Smith that I’ve read. The first was The Crimson Cord which I found to be a riveting story based on what the Bible tells us of a key player in Israel’s destruction of Jericho: Rahab, a prostitute. In The Prophetess, Smith is taking details from Judges chapters 3 (the backstory), 4 (the events of the defeat of a powerful enemy, King Jabin of Canaan and his commander Sisera by the Israelites), and 5 (the victory song written by the prophetess, Deborah).
In what Smith calls an ‘historical reconstruction’, she tells us of a woman respected for her visions through which God speaks to His people who have been persecuted, killed, enslaved, and cruelly abused by the Canaanites for twenty years since the death of Ehud. It was a period when the Israelites turned from their God to worship the gods of their neighbours and oppressors. But in a small village situated between Ramah and Bethel, hidden by a hill on one side and protected on the other three by forests, lived a woman named Deborah, the only female judge mentioned in the Bible.
We are told that Deborah’s husband was Lappidoth, and that a Kenite named Heber, along with his wife, Jael, had left their people and settled in Israel. From these sketchy details, Smith has woven a captivating story of the life of Deborah, her husband whose devotion to her was not fully returned until late in life, her children who she strived to keep safe, her visions from God, and her draining work of understanding the law of Moses and using it to fairly arbitrate disputes among the people of her village. Barak is presented as a fierce and determined warrior who fights partly from revenge for the savage abuse and subsequent death of his wife, Nessa. While Deborah’s sons are completely obedient to her, it is her daughter Talya who is rebellious and full of fire. She learns to use the sling and the bow, and when war is finally ordered by God, it is Talya who is determined to be the woman God has told her mother would kill Sisera.
Smith has created a scrupulously plausible and entertaining novel based on the customs and lifestyle of the times (1126 BC – 1100 BC) and kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen next. Would Heber make weapons for Barak? Would his youngest son wed Talya? Would Sisera come when the men were away from camp and abuse Jael? Or, worse, her daughters? Would Barak find a way into King Jabin’s stronghold and release the hundreds of Israelites enslaved there? Would it be Talya who slays Sisera? For me, this wasn’t quite as exciting as The Crimson Cord but it was thoroughly enjoyable and I’ll certainly be reading more from this author. * * * *
The Prophetess is available from Amazon and other fine book sellers.