Roseanna M. White, author of A Stray Drop of Blood, makes her home in the mountains of Western Maryland with her husband, two small children, and the colony of dust bunnies living under her couch. After graduating from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, she and her husband founded the Christian Review of Books, where she is the editor. She is a member of ACFW, HisWriters, Biblical Fiction Writers, and HEWN Marketing.
Book Review by Narelle Atkins
Jewel of Persia (WhiteFire Publishing, 2011) is Roseanna M. White’s exciting Biblical fiction novel set in Persia around 480 BC during the reign of King Xerxes. Historical events from the Book of Esther are included in the story.
Kasia, a young Jewess, is bathing her feet in the icy river water in Susa when she has an unexpected encounter with King Xerxes. She doesn’t recognise the charming King, and she is more concerned about protecting her young charge, the future Queen Esther, than hiding her own identity.
King Xerxes is captivated by Kasia’s beauty and, much to Kasia’s father’s displeasure, decides he wants Kasia as his wife. Kasia is moved to the palace, and her friends and family assume her disappearance is caused by drowning in the river.
Twelve year old Esther is devastated by the loss of her best friend, only a few years after her parents passed away and her cousin Mordecai became her guardian.
Kasia falls in love with the King, and her life is in jeopardy because she is the King’s favorite wife. Palace life in the harem is a culture shock for the young Jewess, and her faith is tested and strengthened during the story. Drawing on historical events, the love story between Kasia and King Xerxes unfolds and provides a fascinating insight into the danger, jealousy and intrigue of life in the Persian Palace.
Jewel of Persia is a compelling story about royalty, fidelity and love, in the context of a society that expects their King to have numerous wives and concubines. The differences between Jewish and Persian society create conflict between Kasia and King Xerxes, who are from different worlds and hold diverse values and religious beliefs. I recommend Jewel of Persia for those looking for a powerful and challenging Biblical fiction story.
Narelle: Jewel of Persia draws on Biblical historical facts from the Book of Esther and Persian history. How did you go about researching Persian history?
Roseanna: Well, in college I’d read Histories by Herodotus, which is the Greek account of the Greco-Persian War, written a couple decades after the events. So when I weighed the evidence as to which king it was in Esther and decided it was most likely Xerxes, I was really excited to realize I already knew a lot about it. I then sat down and mapped out the events from Esther and Herodotus and was even more excited to realize they click together pretty perfectly.
I reread Histories and took notes as I went, which gave me the plot-points I needed for the book. Nearly every major event in Jewel of Persia revolves around history recorded either in the Bible or by Herodotus.
But to learn about the Persian culture itself, I did a lot of online research, including (my favorite) a fabulous documentary made in conjunction with an exhibit about Ancient Persia by the British Museum. I spent a lot of time reading about the climate, the land, the society, and the religion. I also got out a few books from my library on the subjects, though they didn’t have much to choose from, LOL. There’s a reason the British Museum entitled their exhibit “The Forgotten Empire.”
Narelle: Kasia and her family are Jews living in Persia under King Xerxes rule. What struggles did the Jews face as aliens in a foreign land?
Roseanna: Well, by the time Xerxes took the throne and my story begins, the Jews have already been given leave to go back to Israel if they so desired, which is where the books of Ezra and Nehemiah in the Bible come in. But many chose to stay, my characters among them.
The Persians were actually very modern when it comes to religious tolerance, etc. They were a monotheistic society worshiping Ahura Mazda (what is now called Zoroastrianism, though at the time it would have been called Mazdayasna), an uncreated being whose enemy is another, evil uncreated being called Angra Mainyu. But as the empire expanded, they granted everyone the right to worship as they pleased. Still, “tolerant” societies don’t often get along with religious groups who claim to have an “only” behind them. Though we see the Persian kings themselves give favor to the Jews, we also see evidence that others hated them.
I chose to put my heroine in a family that was proud of its Jewish heritage and prejudiced against the Persians just as the Persians were prejudiced against them. But then I played up the contrast of Mordecai and Esther, who were more fair-minded about that. I also had a choice to make as to whether I wanted Mordecai to have always hidden his heritage (which is one way to read the book of Esther) or if rather he hid only his association with Esther (which is another way to read it). I chose the one that worked best with my plot. =)
Narelle: The Persians had their own gods and religious beliefs. How did their beliefs differ from the Jews and how did it affect their outlook on life?
Roseanna: As I touched on above, Mazdayasna was also a monotheistic religion. On the surface, it might look much like Judaism: one supreme god, who embodies all that’s good. One main enemy of the god, who tries to sway humanity against the good one. And a slew of minor deities much like angels, who do the bidding of either Ahura Mazda or his enemy, Angra Mainyu.
The real challenge for me came from the fact that Herodotus talks about the Persians as if they’re worshipping Greek gods, which we know they didn’t. So most of the history we have to go on reflects religious opinions that don’t hold true to Mazdayasna . . . which, given the fact that Persian society strayed from it within the next half-century, actually sounds reasonable. So I had Xerxes caught between the beliefs in his god that came from their great prophet and the evidence he saw of what he thought was his god, but which the Jewish characters recognized as an enemy of Jehovah.
I did have fun, though, trying to portray my villains as very faithful . . . but to the wrong deity. I wanted to make it clear that their faith wasn’t in idols or smoke and mirrors, but in a living being . . . an enemy of God. But because they truly believed in this god they served, they carried out its will to oppose and even destroy those faithful to Jehovah, who they identified as the evil one in their religion.
What it came down to was something that harkens toward Jesus saying we will know the spirits by the fruits they produce—in my story, the deities of the Persians produced fruits of hatred and destruction while the God of the Jews produced fruits of love and healing.
Yep, fun stuff. =)
Roseanna, thanks so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure to interview you and learn more about Biblical fiction.
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To learn more about Roseanna M. White, please visit her website, blog and Christian Review of Books.
Narelle Atkins writes contemporary inspirational romance. She resides in Canberra, Australia with her husband and children. To learn more about Narelle, please visit her website.