Back in my high school years, I learned to love historical fiction for its ability to stretch my imagination, allow me to see life through eyes other than my own, and feel for others I didn’t know. Christian historical fiction was rare during my young years. Its development lagged behind secular historical fiction; Bible-based fiction was even slower yet, dragging its heels for fear of minimizing the accounts of events in the Bible. What has been published so far is a mixed bag of literature. I’ve seen some beautifully written books which transport us back in time and enhances our head knowledge and nudges us toward a more satisfying state of heart knowledge; in the extreme situations, a few results were less desirable, distorting truth or completely leading a reader in a different direction. The Last Queen of Sheba is one of the greats.
Critics or purists who prefer Bible stories to be free of fictionalization may not care for the concept of this book since its premise is based on just a few lines of scripture in the Old Testament–the meeting of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, David’s son. Yet, I found the book incredibly insightful and supportive of Biblical precepts. The book is professionally detailed: a book that speculates how “it could have happened.” In my opinion, Christian historical fiction and its sub-genre of biblical fiction has arrived and can easily stand on its own, thanks to many awesome writers who know Christian principles and their Bible, and owing greatly to the wonderful resources available in libraries and on the web. Special kudos goes out to Jill Francis Hudson for this epic tale of two young rulers.
As far as I can discern, there are four basic divisions in the story line:
- Events leading up to choosing Makeda as Queen of Sheba. Once she was chosen, there was a certain amount of political turmoil she had to overcome. Then some troubling events led to Makeda’s decision to visit King Solomon of Israel.
- The Queen of Sheba’s actual visit with Solomon.
- The Queen’s return to Sheba and her rule of her country from her family palace in Yeha, Ethiopia.
- The Consequences of Sheba’s visit. Some loose ends are resolved, while we read about the downfall of Solomon.
The story is told in the first person by Tamrin, the Merchant. The wealthy merchant has traveled extensively and amassed for himself riches and an an enterprising business with contacts all over Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia and even Israel and its neighbors. In fact, his most recent visit with Solomon garnered him a commission from the King for materials needed to embellish the Temple he was building for God. In addition to conducting business with Solomon, Tamrin treasured the philosophical discussions with the wise and humble man. The young king wanted his friend to know his God, Adonai, as well. Their talks gave Tamrin much to think about on his long journeys through the deserts.
Tamrin was a distant cousin to Makeda in Yeha, but because of their ages, she called him Uncle Tamrin. He looked on her as the daughter or niece he never had. He was always visiting her and bringing her exotic gifts from his travels. She was as pure, honest, intelligent and kind as her father was corrupt, dishonest, churlish, and cruel. He kept her in isolation in his compound in Yeha where the two rarely saw each other. She was of African/Arabian descent and beautiful. It was no wonder she was chosen as Sheba’s queen.
This book is much more than just a political commentary of a remote queen. Through the author’s skillful writing and storytelling ability, people jump off the pages and become real. The conflicts grip us and become personal to us. When Queen Makeda returned from Israel, she turned her country on its head. She introduced many reforms that turned an oppressed people into prosperous citizens. She brought from Israel principles from the law of Moses that turned her country from “an uneasy, unstable agglomeration of disparate tribes whose only reason for suppressing their mutual hatred was the fact that they hated non-Shebans more” to a country that worshiped and honored God (Adonai).
Twenty years after Makeda was chose Queen of Sheba, Tamrin the Merchant had to return to Jerusalem with a representative of Sheba’s royal council. In contrast to Sheba’s now orderly, happy and prosperous state, what greeted his eyes shocked and distressed him. Israel decline was evident everywhere he looked. Even more shocking was King Solomon himself. He appeared haggard and even older than the merchant. The reason for such a decline was heart-rending. That is something you’ll discover when you read this book. Tamrin was not even as welcome as before, until Solomon met the Sheban emissary. Eventually they returned to Sheba with sad news for Queen Makeda, but with something important for the people and for God’s temple in Yeha.
What I like best about this book is the meticulous detail the author uses to make the settings and circumstances interesting and relevant for the reader. By researching the Kebra Nagast, the national Ethiopian epic, Islamic and Jewish legends and literature and archaeological information, Ms. Hudson was able to move way beyond common knowledge to treat her readers to so much fascinating detail.
While I felt the beginning of the tale was a little slow moving, once the events ramped up so did the action and suspense. The remainder of the story was intense and terse; I had a hard time finding a place to stop reading when I needed to. The beginning set-up is filled with necessary background information, making the faster moving accounts flow more naturally and easier to comprehend. This is definitely one of my favorite biblically-based historical fiction books of all time. I will be looking for this author’s other works as soon as I can. I highly recommend this book for high school, college age and older readers. As for younger readers than I just mentioned, the subject material may be a bit more mature than they can handle. If I were to rate the book, it would be given a PG-13 rating for some adult topics.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of the author and Kregel Publications. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”