I have read a number of Biblical fiction books in the past few years and have thoroughly enjoyed all of them. Deborah Rising popped up when I was browsing Amazon as a “recommended for you” book and I thought, “Sure, great!” It has rave reviews and a long outline on Amazon and, had I read all the way to the bottom, I would have seen that the last line was a reviewer saying, “Can’t wait for the next book!” Even that might not have clearly indicated that this was going to be a cliff-hanger. I find I really do prefer stand-alone books even when it’s a series. That said, the rave reviews were pretty much bang on. The opening sentence really grabs you, for starters, but as the chapter continues, the horror, greed, and injustice of the situation is disgusting — but compelling. If you ever needed an argument that power corrupts or that life for a woman could be hell, this book is it.
Deborah is an orphan — both of her parents killed by marauders — and at the beginning she has a sister, Tamar, one year her senior and Judge Sifron of Ephraim has adopted them. It is Tamar who is to be judged and stoned on the accusation of not being a virgin when wed the day before to the judge’s son. Her husband, Seesya, is a cruel, vicious young man not quite 20 years old. He is what his father has made him and now rules his father because he has command of the soldiers. The whole town fears him, including the priest and Tamar has no-one to stand up for her. Of course, she is not allowed to speak for herself. Before stoning her, Seesya puts his ring on Deborah’s hand and declares her to be his next bride. The only one in the whole town brave enough to defy the law is the blacksmith’s son, Barac, a friend of Deborah’s. When it’s his turn to throw a stone, he refuses because it’s a sin “to desecrate the dead”. Barac and his father flee to escape Seesya’s wrath and Deborah does the same but is recaptured.
From this point on, Deborah is a determined fugitive. Her home, Palm Homestead and its famous Egyptian-built cistern, is why Seesya wants to marry her. Having married Tamar, he owns half of the inheritance; when he marries Deborah, it will all be his and he can channel and sell water to all the neighbouring farms. Deborah’s convinced that if she marries Seesya, she will suffer the same fate as her sister and that her only hope to fulfill the prophecy revealed to her father on the eve of her birth — that she would become a prophet — is to become a boy. She has heard of an Edomite, a potion-maker, who was able to turn women into men to fight for their king. Deborah determines to find him and become a man and fight to restore her homestead to herself and fulfill Yahweh’s promise that she will sit under its palm tree and dispense justice and prophesies to her people.
Deborah is feisty and trusts in Yahweh, that He will guide her and provide the shortcuts to reach her goal. However, she escapes from one scrape only to land in another. She encounters lepers, merchants, corrupt priests, weak women who promise to help but then cannot, and becomes Seesya’s bride to discover exactly how Tamar was condemned as a whore. It is a fast-paced story full of peril and adventure and lots of interesting cultural background of the times but at times too cruel and gory for my taste. The second instalment is due out March 1/17 (estimated) and I will buy it but I am going to be more careful in the future because I really don’t like unexpected cliff-hangers. * * * 1/2