Higley‘s historical fiction, Garden of Madness, is based on the seven years King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon spent roaming his hanging gardens in madness after being cursed by the Jewish God, Yahweh for refusing to accept Him as the one God. Based on Biblical accounts in the book of Daniel, brief historical accounts from writers of the time, and extensive excavations/archaeological digs near present-day Baghdad, this is both an exciting and plausible account of the final days of the king’s madness, palace intrigue, the attempt of Judaean royalty to urge their people to remain true to Yahweh, and their wait to be allowed to return home.
The Prologue is told by the king as he remembers Belteshazzar (Daniel), his trusted advisor and friend’s prophesy that he “will be driven from men to dwell with beasts”, and of how his knowledge and understanding slips from him, “And in the darkness, I am no more”. The rest of the story belongs to his daughter, Tia — Tiamat, named after the pagan “dragon goddess, the hideous monster of chaos”. Within her story, the mad king’s thoughts are in italics, as Tia comes to sit in the hanging garden and waits for him, sits with him, the only member of the family who does so in all the seven years he roams the garden in madness.
Tia’s husband, the Judaean prince Shealtiel, has died and poison is suspected. She was wed to him at 14, now widowed at 21, and she is determined not to be another treaty pawn, given to a marriage without love. She is a bright, pampered, energetic princess who loves to run, races chariots, works out in a special training room in the palace, but at the same time, she has an intense longing that her life should make a difference, and that at all costs, she must protect her father until his madness has passed. It is the Jewish custom of the time that when a man dies without a son, an unmarried younger brother may be wed to the widow but Pedaiah seems arrogant and superior to Tia and neither of them want to be wed but for different reasons than Tia understands.
Tia’s mother, Amytis, insists she wed her Median cousin Zagros but Tia cannot bear the idea of leaving all she knows behind, including her father, the only one she believes has ever truly loved her. Tia senses danger from the mage Shadir and from his protegé, Amel-Marduk (often translated as Evil-Merodach in Scripture). When a trusted advisor is found clawed to death, followed by the similar death of a slave girl in the garden, both Tia and her father are implicated. She turns to Daniel for help to find the truth, save herself from a marriage in exile, and save her father at the same time.
This was an exciting adventure with great character development and interesting insights into the culture of ancient Babylon, the culture of the Jews in exile, and the palace life of magi and their politics. It has a compelling plot with many twists as Tia changes from a spoiled naïve young lady to a courageous, determined and more politically savvy woman determined to save her family from a vicious plot that would wipe them out. I highly recommend this historical-fiction novel and will certainly be reading more books by this wonderful author. * * * * *