This review is based on a complimentary book I received from NetGalley. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.The Book of Esther by Emily Barton
Release Date: June 14, 2016
Publisher: Tim Duggan Books
Format: ARC, E-book
Purchase at: Amazon ◊ Barnes & Noble
What if an empire of Jewish warriors that really existed in the Middle Ages had never fallen—and was the only thing standing between Hitler and his conquest of Russia?
Eastern Europe, August 1942. The Khazar kaganate, an isolated nation of Turkic warrior Jews, lies between the Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) and the Khazar Sea (the Caspian). It also happens to lie between a belligerent nation to the west that the Khazars call Germania—and a city the rest of the world calls Stalingrad.
After years of Jewish refugees streaming across the border from Europa, fleeing the war, Germania launches its siege of Khazaria. Only Esther, the daughter of the nation’s chief policy adviser, sees the ominous implications of Germania's disregard for Jewish lives. Only she realizes that this isn’t just another war but an existential threat. After witnessing the enemy warplanes’ first foray into sovereign Khazar territory, Esther knows she must fight for her country. But as the elder daughter in a traditional home, her urgent question is how.
Before daybreak one fateful morning, she embarks on a perilous journey across the open steppe. She seeks a fabled village of Kabbalists who may hold the key to her destiny: their rumored ability to change her into a man so that she may convince her entire nation to join in the fight for its very existence against an enemy like none Khazaria has ever faced before.
The Book of Esther is a profound saga of war, technology, mysticism, power, and faith. This novel—simultaneously a steampunk Joan of Arc and a genre-bending tale of a counterfactual Jewish state by a writer who invents worlds “out of Calvino or Borges” (The New Yorker)—is a stunning achievement. Reminiscent of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, The Book of Esther reaffirms Barton’s place as one of her generation’s most gifted storytellers.
When I requested this book I liked the summary. What I did not realize is that it is deeply entrenched with Jewish culture and tradition and written for a Jewish audience, or at least an audience familiar with Judaism. For me, I found it hard to keep my interest with this book because I spent a lot of time re-reading and researching terms so that I could better understand. So due to my ignorance I found it was start and stop for me and that I am not the intended audience.
With that said the Author is an amazing storyteller. The story is written masterfully blending history, fantasy, Judaism, romance elements and even contains a trans-gendered character who is written as a religious man who received his transformation through mystical means. It is also a book about nation on the brink of war. It has all the elements of a good read, but it just was not for me.
*Thank you to Crown Publishing/Tim Duggan Books & NetGalley for this ARC of The Book of Esther*