Star of Persia by Jill Eileen Smith (BTSNBM)

Star of Persia: Esther's Story  -     By: Jill Eileen Smith

Author’s Note: We were provided with a free copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2 points)

In Star of Persia, Smith retells the familiar Bible story of Esther in an everyday fashion that contains no conspicuous errors, nor does it contain anything particularly groundbreaking. King Xerxes is a mighty king with ample political power and influence. Though he has two wives and a full harem of concubines, he loves only Vashti. Vashti struggled to have children for some time, and finally succeeded in giving Xerxes a son. However, because Vashti is only half-Persian, her rival’s son will be his successor. One evening when he has been drinking too much wine, Xerxes gives in to social pressure and summons Vashti to appear before his nobles. She refuses, a fact which earns her eternal banishment from the kingdom. King Xerxes regrets his decision the following day and longs for someone to fill the empty space Vashti left behind. Hadassah grew up as an orphan in her cousin Mordecai’s family after her parents died when she was very young. Mordecai’s wife Levia has been like a mother to Hadassah, and though she is not close to his other children, her life has been pleasant overall. As Hadassah grows older, she begins to take on more household responsiblities in preparation for her eventual betrothal to an eligible male in their community. One day Levia suddenly falls ill, and despite Hadassah’s vigilant care, she does not recover. Following Levia’s death, Hadassah and Mordecai are left shocked and saddened. Hadassah is even more confused about her future when her best friend Jola is betrothed to a young man she liked. When King Xerxes issues a decree that will change the lives of all the unmarried women in the empire, Hadassah becomes Esther, and has her future decided for her. Star of Persia’s plot moves along at a steady pace and contains no continuity errors, but sometimes it fails to hold the attention. Additionally, it contains one historical error. (spoiler) The prologue depicts a young Hadassah visiting Queen Vashti on palace grounds at night. It is very unlikely that a peasant girl would be allowed to wander through the palace gate, let alone speak to and touch the queen. In contrast, the storyline follows the Biblical narrative almost to the letter, but tends to romanticize Esther and Xerxes’ relationship, and contains very little depth. Therefore, Smith earns an average rating in this section for writing a story that is fine at face value, but failing include any content that is especially memorable or unique.

Character Development (2 points)

Similarly, the character development in this novel is pretty good, but not great. Esther is the weakest character – not a good fact when she is the protagonist. She is continually portrayed as an almost perfect character who displays almost angelic obedience and complacency even as a child. What we need here is a little spirit and rebellion! Esther was human after all, and it must have taken some kind of gumption to appear before Xerxes uninvited. The girl had spirit I tell ya! Anyway, Xerxes is a slightly better character than Esther because he makes irrational decisions he later regrets and learns from these bad choices. Haman is a partially developed antagonist who lacks motive for his actions. The other characters, like Moredecai and Levia, are fairly good minor characters who have a clear role in the story. Because of this mix of good and bad, Smith receives an average score here.

Creativity & Originality (0 points)

Finally, there is nothing particularly original or creative about Smith’s depiction, so this section is awarded zero points. Likewise, we do not believe that this novel contains content that should be made into a film or series. There have been many unsuccessful portrayals of Esther in film thus far, and as of now we do not expect this to change. It would be pointless for someone to try again with incomplete content. If someone attempts to make another movie or series about Esther, they will need to avoid making it a romance, think outside the box, and depict the historical setting as it actually was.

Wish List Rating: 4 out of 10 points

Star of Persia by Jill Eileen Smith (March 3, 2020)

Release date: March 3, 2020

Author: Jill Eileen Smith

Plot summary: In an effort to complete a war his father had planned to win, King Xerxes calls every governor, satrap, and official in his vast kingdom to his palace in Susa to strategize and feast. When they finally leave, he decides on one more week of frivolity, which ends in the banishment of his favorite wife, something he never intended to do. But when he discovers Esther, Xerxes is sure he has a second chance at happiness. In her wildest dreams, Esther could never have imagined that she would end up as queen of Persia. Yet she knows better than to become complacent. Another of Xerxes’s wives is vying for position, and his closest advisor has a deep and dangerous grudge against Esther’s adoptive father. Caught in the middle of palace politics, Esther will find herself in an impossible position: risk her life or consign her people to annihilation.

Author’s note: This post will be updated as more information is released.

The Heart of a King by Jill Eileen Smith

Image result for the heart of a king jill eileen smith

Author’s Note: We were provided with a review copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Plot & Storyline Quality (2.5 points)

Jill Eileen Smith’s newest novel is unique in many ways and is overall a great portrayal of the life of King Solomon. While the novel is imperfect, it stands out among many works of Biblical fiction for being both honest and relatable. The opening chapters introduce the reader to Solomon, a young man who lives in his father’s shadow and longs to be named co-regent. In the midst of his struggle to climb the political ladder, he runs into a young woman named Naamah who he has not seen in five years. Naamah is a somewhat spoiled and willful Ammonite woman whose one desire is marriage to Solomon. Despite her flaws, Naamah worships Yahweh rather than the gods of Ammon, and believes that love can overcome all obstacles. Solomon and Naamah are wed and soon have a child together – Rehoboam. However, Solomon’s increasing desire for political alliances leads him away from his first love and in many different directions. Abishag is a young virgin who cared for King David until his death. She is devout in her worship of Yahweh and seeks peaceful relationships with others. Now a king, Solomon marries her for reasons both of love and political advantage. Following this marriage, he goes on to wed Siti, princess of Egypt, the queen of Sheba, and many other women. Will Solomon’s wisdom prove to be a blessing or a curse? To answer this question, read the book!;) This plot holds the attention quite well from beginning to end, and is punctuated with creative musings of The Teacher that became the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes (King Solomon). Smith tastefully weaves passages from Song of Solomon into the story and uses them to shape Solomon’s personality and relationship choices. Furthermore, Solomon’s chaotic personal life and wrong choices are portrayed in a realistic manner. The main flaw here is that the five main characters – each with their own story – make for a bit of a choppy read, especially in the second half of the novel. Additionally, the ending, although well done, feels a bit rushed. However, this remains the best fictional work of King Solomon’s life that I have read to date, therefore earning the storyline an above average rating.

Character Development (3 points)

Smith’s character development is the strongest part of her novel because it demonstrates her clear understanding of different personalities and tendencies among people. Solomon is the best character because his arc slowly develops throughout the novel and is punctuated with a creative look at poetry and philosophical musings he actually wrote. Additionally, his rationalization of disobedience and distrust of God’s promises are relatable and add much to the storyline. Naamah’s character is quite good at first, as is Abishag’s, however, both women feel left unfinished. In contrast, Siti has a clearly defined personality, and Smith’s queen of Sheba is unique and realistic. The only other flaw to mention here is that Naamah and Abishag have a somewhat choppy arc. In spite of these flaws, Smith’s portrayal of court politics and royals using one another is quite good and would make a great Bible miniseries. Therefore, Smith earns an above average score in this section.

Creativity & Originality (1 point)

Finally, Smith earns a full point in creativity for weaving Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon into her story in such a way that the Biblical accounts and her fictional story are interdependent upon one another. The flaws that exist in this novel are mainly a result of it being a standalone work. It is my opinion that these errors could be corrected on the big screen by breaking the novel up into a miniseries. This series should focus on one character at a time and eventually tie their stories together to make for better continuity. It is our hope that Christian filmmakers will recognize unique Christian novels such as these for their potential, and act on this realization soon. Good job Ms. Smith! Your creativity is much appreciated!

Wish List Rating: 6.5 out of 10 points