The Stone of Ebenezer by Susan Van Volkenburgh

I received a free ecopy of this book from BookLookBloggers in exchange for an honest review.

This is historical fiction based on the biblical account of the time of Samuel when the Israelites were harried by the Philistines, a nation of giants that thought of the Jewish nation as dogs to be ruled over and the Ark of the Covenant, made in the wilderness after liberation from Egypt, resided in the tabernacle in Shiloh and the priesthood had become corrupt.  The story follows a young soldier named Nagad, whose family had been wiped out by the Philistines in one of their numerous attacks.  Nagad admires his captain, Tiphcar, and would gladly die for him and for his people, but fights out of a deep desire for revenge for the loss of his family.  However, Van Volkenburgh also tells the story from the viewpoint of four soldiers of the opposing army who carry the captured Ark from city to city, watching plague and death follow its course until the Philistines are compelled to send it back on a cart pulled by oxen to rid themselves of the pestilence.  Only when Samuel has finally turned the people of Israel back to the Lord are they able to defeat the Philistines and live in peace.

This account is driven by character.  Nagad is compelling and his view of Samuel and his purpose is well-documented and brings the time and mission to life.  We learn more about the various cities of the Philistines as the four comrades carry the Ark from place to place according to their orders than we do about the towns and cities of Israel but it all adds to fleshing out the plot and is interesting.

From the cover, I rather thought this intended for a teenage/young adult audience but as I read along, I began to re-think that.  This story is written in a rather stilted, archaic style, (“Too many there were that came astride the outer defenses.”) whether by purpose to lend authenticity to the ancient story or not, I can’t say, but it was both a distraction and a deterrent.  The writing was full of flowery language (“The earth in its fitful sleep raged as winter storms, unusual in strength and frequency, beset the region, flooding the valley, for the River Elah crested its banks.”) which I sometimes had to look up for an exact definition or just felt was inappropriate or awkward.  Also, the main character, Nagad, was constantly being referred to as “the young conscript” which drove me crazy.  The story could use a good editing.

Aside from that, I felt The Stone of Ebenezer was worth reading and gave interesting insight into a turbulent time in the history of the Jewish nation.  Since it is a time of war, there is quite a bit of blood and gore and exciting descriptions of battle scenes.  It is a good first novel and is meant to be the first of a trilogy of kings, so hopefully the writing will improve with the next instalment.  * * 1/2


About mysm2000

Having taught elementary school for more than 25 years and been involved in many amazing technology and curriculum projects, I find I've developed a myriad of interests based on literature I've read and music I've heard. I've followed The Wright Three to Chicago, Ansel Adams to Colorado, The Kon Tiki Expedition to Easter Island, Simon & Garfunkel lyrics to New York City, Frank Lloyd Wright to Fallingwater, Pennsylvania, and have only just begun.
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