Author: Tosca Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction
For: Fans of Francine Rivers, Lynn Austin
Strengths: Character driven, vivid setting, lovely prose
This is a fictional account of the Queen of Sheba (modern day Ethiopia and Yemen) and her interactions with King Solomon of Israel. The book tells the story of Bilquis’ rise to power as queen and then her relationship with Solomon, first through letters and then when she travels to meet him.I was surprised to learn that the Queen of Sheba and Solomon are mentioned in the Bible, the Qu’ran, and Ethiopian history, and Lee draws from all three for her story.
First, the good: the book is stunningly well written. The prose is beautiful and Lee draws Saba (Sheba) so vividly that I could almost smell the frankincense and see the gold-laden camels winding through the desert .
Secondly, the character development is very well done. I loved icy, smart, fearless, and conflicted Bilquis, but I was most intrigued by Lee’s complex depiction of Solomon. He begins as the wise and confident king of Proverbs, becomes the lover of Song of Solomon, and ends as the disillusioned and tormented writer of Ecclesiastes.
The tension between Bilquis and Solomon was also fantastic. Lee wrote their complex interactions brilliantly so that you see the conflict of their mutual arrogance and sharp wit alongside their mutual questions, insecurity, and loneliness. I found it wholly believable, and many of their conversations and letters profound.
The thing that disappointed me was the ending. Lee brilliantly develops Bilquis’ journey of questioning her own gods without sounding preachy or condescending, but *Spoiler Warning* (Bilquis never goes beyond recognizing that her gods are futile and Yahweh is different. Lee did such a wonderful job of preparing Bilquis’ heart to accept the God of Israel that I was really thinking she could write her conversion in a powerful and believable way, and I was nearly heartbroken that she never took it that far.) *End Spoiler*
There were also some plot developments that stretched, if not directly contradicted the Biblical account. These are apparently sourced in Ethiopian tradition, so I can understand why Lee choose to use them, however, while I suspect there is typically a grain of truth in many myths, I doubt they are entirely true. Since this is a fictional account it did not bother me terribly, but I would have preferred an ending that was more in line with the Biblical account.
Lastly, Lee is writing about both a pagan culture and an Israelite king whose lust was his downfall, so there is some sex in the book. The scenes are not graphic but they are there, and they are viewed through Bilquis’ pagan viewpoint, not a Christian one. Since Solomon never repents in the Biblical account I was not expecting that, but I was hoping that Bilquis would have a change of mind set by the end.
Overall, there was a lot that I absolutely loved about this book. Unfortunately, when a writer is this good and a story has so much potential, I’m even more disappointed when the ending isn’t the best. The same could be said about the historical Solomon; the fact that he started so well and was given so much makes his unfaithfulness to God and ultimate downfall all the more tragic.