Grace A. Johnson
Review: Hadassah: One Night With the King by Tommy Tenney
*Warnings* #1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You'll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which will mean some spoilers, so watch out. This book is not for the faint of heart. You may already be contriving ideas and images of the content this book will content, the emotions it will invoke, and perhaps even the ending—especially if you have read the Book of Esther or watched the film based upon this particular novel. Forget them. You’re wrong. This is not a book about Esther, Queen of Persia. This is not the story you imagined, as our narrator makes a point of, full of court intrigue, political scandal, pagan sensuality—or even a tale of pious martyrdom. It’s not entirely a romance—not in the modern sense, that is—not entirely an adventure, not entirely a fictional work, even. It is perhaps the most tragic love story of all time, the most action-packed adventure ever lived, and the true story of Hadassah, the girl who became queen. I don't read a lot of "retellings"--fictional books based upon or about actual people. Usually because I either know the true story too well to be convinced of anything else or I don't want to spoil my own fanciful ideas of what a true story (particularly Esther's) was like. I read Jewel of Persia sometime earlier this year or late 2019, and it just didn't do it for me. The depiction of King Xerxes was not as a powerful king, but rather a sentimental child. And maybe, in reality, he was at his heart--but coupled with a heroine like Kasia and a story of love between the two, both he and the true story of Esther (who was in Jewel of Persia) were spoiled for me. Knowing that Rosanna M. White had toyed with Esther and Xerxes so was just disappointing. Which is why I was hesitant to read One Night With the King. I've watched the 2005 movie tons of times. I love it. It's well-made, great cinematography, almost perfectly accurate, wonderful acting (co-starring John Rhys-Davies as Mordecai, so what do you expect?). Of course, I'd never known it was based upon a novel, which was based upon the Book of Esther, until a few months ago. So I put this book on hold at my local library. My main concerns were that it would be boring, full of war and political intrigue that I wouldn't understand nor want to read through, or else largely about the scandal of Xerxes' childhood and lifestyle and many wives and concubines and...ick. Or that the characters would be bland--Xerxes' completely unrelatable and unlovable, Hadassah pious and too-perfect. Of course, if the book were anything like the movie, it was destined to be more than wonderful. But here's the thing: it's none of those things. Nothing I was afraid of. Nothing it could have been about. Nothing like the movie. Of course, I could definitely see the parallels and the similar scenes, and every time Mordecai entered the seen, I saw John Rhys-Davies and heard his Welsh accent as clear as day. Hadassah: One Night With the King is about those two very things. Hadassah. And her one night with the king of kings. (And, yes, I'm pretty sure they called Xerxes that.) So, regardless of what you think about these two people and their love story, or even about the Book of Esther itself (as in, whether it's true or not), or what you've read before (because so many people have tried to write Hadassah over the years), you need to read this book. Tommy Tenney is simply an amazing author. I've never read anything by him before in my life, but he has a spectacular storytelling method. It's captivating. This white, Christian, 21st-century man--note: man--writes from the point-of-view of a young, 400 BC era Hebrew woman better than, I think, even a Jewish woman could. Hadassah is not a Mary Sue. She's not perfect, not bland, not too mature or too immature. As a character, she is perfect. Her voice is so smooth, taking on a person, a character, all its own, apart from the same woman the story is about. The development of her worldview and her faith throughout the story is really what it's about. Her experience with Xerxes and, most importantly, God, is at the forefront of this novel. It's not politics, not war, not scandal, not our twisted idea of "romance" and "love" stories. It's simply Hadassah, myrtle tree, Star of Persia. And maybe that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Maybe you've never read a narration so alive and have no idea what to expect. Just read it. But beware--this book is not for the faint of heart. And not because of the harem practices or the semi-detailed descriptions of castration or the impalement of criminals and brutal slaughtering of our heroine's family--although that surely plays some part. But because you won't walk away from Hadassah the same. It will totally change your perspective of this story, of this amazing young Jewess. You won't be reading the Bible the same, or romance novels, or Biblical novels the same after this. Not when you feel as though you know the Queen of Persia. The emotion in this novel is so poignant that it will pierce your heart. The spirituality in this novel is so alive that you won't be the same Christian afterward. Hadassah truly lived the life we all--man, woman, Jew, Gentile--should be living. A life in God.