Today’s Cozy Read selection is The Queen’s Handmaid, an historical fiction novel by Tracy L. Higley which takes place in the time of Herod the Great, Salome, Cleopatra, and Marc Antony — 39 B.C. It is a romantic adventure centering around the lost (and sealed) writings of the prophet Daniel and an obscure princess of the Hasmonean (also called the Maccabean) Dynasty of the Jewish people. The writings were to be revealed at the coming of the Messiah but with all the years of various captivities, they became lost. Until Samuel finds them and entrusts them to a young handmaiden named Lydia, an orphan raised in the palace who has been taught the scriptures by Samuel and serves her queen, Cleopatra. As he lies dying, Samuel charges Lydia to return the scrolls to Jerusalem to a man who will be standing on the steps of the temple on the annual day of atonement, Yom HaKippurim. He will be wearing a red-stiped tallit with red and blue corded tassels, a member of the Chakkiym (Aramaic – Kahk-keem). She is to trust no other. He also gives her a necklace that belonged to her mother whom she never knew.
Herod is visiting Cleopatra on his way to Rome and desires Lydia to become the handmaiden for his future queen and so she begins her journey to Jerusalem via Rome. While she enchants many, Lydia also makes a few enemies along the way, the most dangerous of whom is Herod’s sister, Salome. Her staunchest protector, however, is the household manager for Herod, a Hebrew soldier named Simon for whom she develops strong feelings. Another friend is David who had served Herod for 3 years before Lydia met him. Despite their seeming loyalty to her, Lydia is slow to open herself up to them. She continually searches for the truth about the Chakkiym, about her Jewishness, and about her identity.
This story is rich with the settings of Alexandria, Rome, and Jerusalem with lots of tension and plot twists, the threat of evil, the paranoia of Herod, the ambition of Salome, palace spies, escape attempts from the palace, and the protection of HaShem for Lydia. It is a time period that fascinates author, Tracy L. Higley and she does her research well. I have read other books by her that are just as gripping and have at least one other on my shelf still to read. If you enjoy historical fiction from biblical times, I am confident you will enjoy The Queen’s Handmaid. * * * *