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Egyptian queen. A lascivious Galilean governor. A ...
Egyptian queen. A lascivious Galilean governor. A beautiful servant girl. Theirs is
a story of prophecy, self-discovery, and revelation.
The year is 39 BC. All of Alexandria
awaits the arrival of Herod, the Galilean governor with his eye on the Judean
kingship. The handmaid of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, receives a troubling visit
from her aging mentor.
An orphan since birth, Lydia lives in the
palace at the demand of Cleopatra and her royal child, the son of Julius
Caesar. But Lydia has a growing problem on her hands: her beauty is becoming a
liability to the aging queen, and the visiting Herod’s undisguised interest
only makes matters worse.
When Lydia’s mentor is murdered, the
handmaid inherits a daunting task. An ancient set of sealed scrolls, the secret
writings of the prophet Daniel, must be returned to Jerusalem—before those who
killed her mentor destroy the scrolls as well. The future of the Israelites
depends on it. So Lydia leaves the palace to serve as lady’s maid to Herod’s wife
in the Holy City.
As Lydia is absorbed into the
machinations of Herod’s household, her mission— and her people’s hope of a
Messianic King—are endangered at every turn. Can Lydia avoid the adulterous
intentions of Herod? Can she deliver the scrolls to the mysterious man on the
steps of the Temple? Will the true King of Israel ever rise?
Alexandria, Egypt January, 39 BC
Lydia detached herself from the surge of chaos in the palace kitchens and slipped along the shadowed corridor, to a door in the south wall where a few coins would finally find their way into her palm. If she was not caught.
The shouts had come thirty minutes earlier. The Idumean governor of the north-country province of Israel was navigating his ship into the royal port. Slaves assigned to watch the darkening harbor scuttled back to the palace.
In the kitchens, Banafrit was barking commands at her frantic staff, her voice a whip-crack over slaves and servants alike who scurried to do her bidding. But Lydia's presence was neither needed nor expected there, and her secret errand would not wait. She risked a beating, or worse, but it was not the first time.
From somewhere in the cavernous palace came a haunting melody plucked on lyre strings, but the gray walls of the darkened corridor tunneled away from the sound to the south wall. Lydia sped forward on sure feet, sandals scuffing the stone floors. She could navigate these halls in darkness, and often did, to be alone with her thoughts.
The blue glaze of the jug she carried was smooth, but her fingers instinctively sought out imperfections, any trapped air or roughened clay that would render the piece less valued. A figure in the narrow doorway ahead shifted, the moonlight outlining wide shoulders and brawny arms.
At his sudden appearance, her back stiffened.
"You are late." He spoke in a whisper. The light behind him left his features undefined, but the voice was familiar.
In the harbor beyond, the eerie sound of a cat yowling for its next meal raised the hair on Lydia's arms. "I had difficulty getting away. We have a guest arriving—"
"Yes, Herod. The whole city is aware. But one politicking Arab need not disrupt all of commerce!"
Lydia bit back a sharp reply. Her small jug was hardly the stuff of exotic trade. She held the piece to the moonlight. "I gave this one shaded striations of blues and grays, and you'll see that the neck is quite delicate—"
"Girl, you know I care nothing about beauty." He snorted. "The only beauty I know is the lovely color of the obols your pieces fetch me." He jingled a pouch at her eye level. "Pity you can't work faster. Your work is always in demand."
Lydia handed him the jug and took the pouch from his outstretched hand. "Someday." She shook the coins as he had done. "When I have saved enough of this."
Though at the pace she found time to make pieces, she would be older than Banafrit by the time she broke free of palace service to open her own shop. If she survived that long. "Someday."
He shrugged and disappeared into the night with a disinterested wave and a muttered, "Until next week."
Lydia's free hand lifted of its own accord, as if to bid farewell to the jug that was a part of her, as all her artwork became.
She turned back into the corridor, and a flutter of white caught her eye. Her pulse jumped. "Who is there?"
Silence met her question. She tucked the money pouch with its scant obols under the folds of her outer robes and hurried forward, sliding her fingers along the length of the damp wall. Around the first corner a smoldering torch painted the corridor in a smoky half-light. Her quarry vanished around the next bend, but not before the jade-green robes and pale flesh had given her away. Andromeda.
Had the girl been watching? Seen the transaction in the shadows? Lydia paused in the hall, one hand braced against the wall and the other clutching the meager pouch. Cleopatra's anger knew no limits and was as unpredictable as summer lightning.
The scent of smoke watered Lydia's eyes and a chill breeze snaked through the hall and sputtered the torch, mimicking the beat of her heart. She swallowed against a bitter taste. She was so close to her goal of six hundred obols. She needed only to keep her head down and stay safe from Cleopatra's wrath until she earned a bit more. But if Cleopatra found out ...
She would not follow Andromeda. Better to tuck the pouch's dismal contents into the carefully concealed pocket of her sleeping mat, in the lower level of the palace she shared with two other servants, than to try to figure out the girl's plan. Lydia passed the smoking torch, rounded the corner hesitantly, but Andromeda was already gone, off to spread gossip, no doubt. The girl was younger even than Lydia, perhaps only fifteen years old, but never missed a chance to outshine her. Lydia escaped to her bedchamber, secreted away the coins in the straw, and hurried to the kitchens to assess the damage.
The palace kitchens bordered a spacious atrium with a central impluvium beneath the open sky catching rainwater. Tonight, at the four corners of the impluvium, four large bronze pots were suspended by chains over cook fires. The overflowing pots pitched and heaved like ships on tempestuous waves of fire. Heat radiated through the courtyard, barely escaping into the night air. No expense, no effort would be spared to impress Herod. Cleopatra had made her desires clear.
Around the fires, palace staff stumbled, shoved, and shouted. The raised arms of pretty serving girls rushed past with platters of delicacies, and new-muscled boys shouldered amphorae of wine in a parade of luxury marching toward the spread tables.
Lydia weaved through the bedlam to the huge kitchen off the atrium, following the sound of Banafrit's roar of impatience.
"What do I care about such nonsense tonight, girl?"
Lydia hesitated in the doorway, jaw tightening. Andromeda had already found her way to Banafrit, to pour her poison into the woman's ear and try to curry favor. But Banafrit elbowed the girl away, bustling around a table littered with the remains of radish and carrot tips and greens and scowling at the noisy kitchen staff all at once.
The woman's gray-streaked hair was struggling free of its combs, and in the fire-heat, strands plastered her pink cheeks. Flour coated her left eyebrow, and she wiped the back of her hand across her forehead, the tan smudge like a scar.
Blustering as she was, Banafrit was the closest thing to a mother Lydia had ever known, though Lydia would never admit to the woman that she had constructed the role for her. Lydia belonged nowhere, but at least in this kitchen, she was acknowledged.
The older woman eyed Lydia in the door frame, glanced from her to Andromeda, and scowled once more. The younger girl seemed to understand where Banafrit's loyalty lay and slunk off to complain to a servant boy who was always hanging about her.
But it was another who greeted her, rising unsteadily from a chair against the wall. "Lydia, at last." He ringed a table of servants arranging pale-green melons on platters and came forward to greet her.
"Samuel." She held out welcoming hands to her friend. The aging man's usually laugh-crinkled face was somber, his white beard uncombed. "What brings you to the palace on a night such as this?"
"I—I need to speak with you—"
Banafrit waddled between them and swatted at Samuel in a familiar gesture born of years of acquaintance. "Be gone, old man. We've no time for lessons and studies here tonight. Herod will be wanting his food and his comforts, and we've nothing but slowwitted servants and lazy slaves about."
She cast an evil eye over Lydia, though a fondness lay behind her expression. "And you—why is it everyone wants to speak about you, to you? Haven't you duties of your own tonight? I should think that brat—"
"Cleopatra is readying her son herself this evening." Lydia idly rearranged some pomegranates and green grapes on one of the serving dishes into a more pleasing display, with complementary colors better balanced. "She wanted to remind him of the proper manners before a Jewish Galilean governor."
Samuel grunted. "He's not Jewish. And as for proper manners ..." He left off, with a glance at the ceiling and a shrug.
Samuel's hostility ran deep. Although he had been born in Susa, in what had once been the Persian Empire, he was intensely loyal to all of Israel, from whence his people had been exiled centuries ago. And Lydia was equally loyal to him. If Banafrit was mother, then Samuel was father. Though it was best to remain independent, to keep some distance. A battle Lydia continually fought.
"Banafrit is right, Samuel. I should make myself available for whatever is needed tonight. Our lessons must wait."
"Hmph, lessons." Banafrit poked a servant girl and handed her the fruit platter. "Why you want to learn to be Jewish from this man, I'll never understand. You're not even a Jew."
Lydia raised her eyebrows. "How do you know?"
Banafrit's glance flicked to Samuel, then away, as though the two held a confidence between them. "I told you I've no time for chatter."
But Samuel grabbed her hands, dwarfing them in his own large grasp. "No lessons tonight, Lydia. There is something important I need to tell you. Something has happened—"
"Ly—di—a!" The screech echoed through the kitchen chamber, familiar enough to freeze every servant and slave at his task.
Cleopatra sailed into the kitchen, raven hair unbound and streaming, dressed only in a white sheath. Her dark eyes were wild with anger or excitement, perhaps both. "There you are! I have been calling for you all over the palace like a peasant woman chasing down a wayward husband! I need you at once. Caesarion has hurt himself, and I am not even close to being ready to meet Herod." She gave a glance to Samuel, his hands still wrapped around Lydia's, and frowned. Then she spun and departed, her expectation clear that Lydia would follow on her heels.
Lydia tried to pull her hands from Samuel's grasp, but he held firm. "Not yet, child. I have something vital I must tell you. Something of your future—something that is past the time for telling."
Banafrit's never-ceasing activity stilled.
Lydia bit her lip at the intensity in his eyes. "What do you mean, past the time—?"
She snatched her hands from his. "I must go, friend. I will find you later." She fled the kitchen, but his declaration thudded inside her mind like an omen of destiny. Her future. And perhaps her past?
She wanted to reach back for the knowledge, but it was like grasping at a wave and finding only sea spray. When would she have another chance? The deep ache, with her always and all the more these past months, swelled against her chest, full and yet desolate.
She shook her head against the emotion and crossed the flame-lit kitchen courtyard. Her mistress was already gone. She hurried down the front hall of the palace, up the massive stairs, to the chamber suite of Cleopatra Philopator, reincarnation of Isis, Pharaoh of Egypt.
The white-kilted Egyptian guard nodded at her approach.
She rapped her knuckles twice against the wooden door but did not wait to be invited. Caesarion's wailing penetrated into the hall, and Lydia's instinct propelled her into the room.
"What is it, little cub? What's happened?"
She pulled up short. The boy sat inconsolable in the lap of Andromeda. The girl's green robes were smirched with wetness, and her dark and stringy hair hung over his head.
Andromeda shifted her eyes toward Lydia and gave her a tight smile of challenge. It was no secret that Andromeda sought to replace her in Caesarion's affections. Already the girl cared for Cleopatra's newborn twins. Was that not enough?
The thought of separation from the boy tightened Lydia's throat. She should not have allowed herself to get so close.
But at Lydia's voice, Caesarion struggled free of the younger girl's arms and sped across the chamber, arms high.
Lydia caught him up in her arms. Tears sparkled in his dark lashes and ran rivers wide as the Nile down his cheeks. "Now there, what has happened?"
"I fell." He sniffed and pointed to a scraped knee.
"I was about to dress the wound." Andromeda's voice was buttery soft for Cleopatra's benefit.
Lydia set the boy down again. At seven years old, he was too big to carry. She needed to get Andromeda out before she mentioned what she had seen in the corridor. With a nod toward the girl, she said, "That will be all. I'm sure Banafrit needs your service downstairs."
Andromeda narrowed her eyes, glanced at Cleopatra on the far side of the chamber, oblivious in her wardrobe preparations, then strolled from the room.
For all the frenzied commotion of the lower-staff level, Cleopatra's multiroomed chamber was an oasis of peaceful luxury, with flaming braziers scattered against the walls warming the rooms and heavy tapestries at the windows to block the winter chill. The rooms were spacious and high ceilinged, the walls frescoed in golds and reds by the best Alexandrian artists.
Cleopatra herself was a thing of beauty, draping herself in her signature eclectic mix of jewel-like Roman purples and crisp Greek whites, with the Egyptian's cropped black wig, striped nemes head cloth, and rearing gold cobra shimmering at her forehead. Indeed, the meeting of these two leaders was a blend of nearly all the world—the Greek pharaoh of Egypt now sought by Rome meeting the Arab governor of a Hebrew province.
Caesarion was still crying, and Lydia dropped to the floor beside a warm brazier and pulled him to her. "Let us look at this knee. There, now that is nothing. Look. A scrape, and only a little blood clings to it. How shall you be a fine Egyptian soldier if you wail over such a small wound?"
He snuggled closer to her, head on her shoulder, and she sang softly to him, a favorite tune that always calmed his restlessness. Her voice carried, pure and gentle, across the chamber.
"I swear by the gods, Lydia, that voice of yours could charm a monster." Cleopatra laughed coldly and inclined her head toward Caesarion. "Or a monstrous child."
Cleopatra still fussed with the purple-edged toga she was arranging, and Lydia left the boy to cross the room and help. With deft fingers she draped the toga in the Roman fashion, tucked the ends snugly against Cleopatra's slim figure, and turned the woman toward the bronze.
Cleopatra surveyed herself and smiled. "Yes, as usual, everything you touch grows more beautiful, does it not? How could we possibly manage here without you?"
The compliment should have warmed Lydia, but she knew better than to believe it was born of affection. Cleopatra never allowed anyone to feel secure. Though only ten years older than Lydia, since Caesarion's birth, Lydia had seen her order the murders of both a younger brother and sister. And her second brother's death—
Lydia tried to refuse the memory, the soul-suffocating memory that crouched in waiting if she was not diligent in breathing it away. Cleopatra had followed in her father's royal footsteps, having watched him order the execution of her older sister, Berenice, while Cleopatra was still a girl.
Lydia returned to Caesarion, still cradling his knee, and pulled him to herself.
Cleopatra turned to her, eyed the two on the floor, and tilted her head. "You always find a way to look prettier than your station should allow, don't you? Is that one of my dresses you have pilfered?" Her mood had turned sour suddenly, as it often did.
"What? No!" Lydia smoothed the white linen sheath dress embroidered with delicate threads of blue. "No, I sewed this myself."
"Hmm. Well, you look too elegant to be a servant. I am sick of you and your ideas. Perhaps it's that troublemaker you spend time with, Samuel. I've been meaning to get rid of him. He's far too old to do much good at the Museum any longer."
Lydia opened her mouth, but there was nothing to be said. Better to ignore the threat and pray it was spoken without much thought.
Cleopatra observed herself in the bronze once more. "Well, this should be good enough to win Herod as a friend."
Friend? As the only living Ptolemy left, besides her son, she was a shrewd and wary ruler and no friend to anyone. Not even Marc Antony, who had fallen victim to her charms two years ago, after the assassination of his mentor and her lover, Julius Caesar. She had nothing left of Caesar but his son, and she had quickly understood the need to ingratiate herself to the next man in line to rule all of Rome. Antony's twins had been born to Cleopatra a few months ago, and she had only grown more paranoid since.
Excerpted from The Queen's Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley. Copyright © 2014 Tracy Higley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 9, 2014
This book takes the reader from the court of Cleopatra and Marc Antony in Egypt to the palaces of Herod in Palestine. The main character, Lydia, is a handmaid to Cleopatra. She is an orphan who has spent her life serving in the Egyptian palace, knowing nothing of her heritage or background. Her mentor and friend, Samuel, has spent years teaching her the stories of his people, the Jews. One fateful night, she finds him stabbed and dying. He gives her a mission to protect and eventually deliver the scrolls of Daniel to the temple in Jerusalem. After being given to Herod as a handmaid for his soon-to-be wife, Lydia travels to Rome and later Palestine. She finds Samuel has not given her an easy task, one that can be full of danger and may take years to complete. Her travels also bring up the question of her parentage and what does the disc on her necklace mean?
Having read several of Tracy Higley’s books, I expected good attention to historic detail. She has done extensive research in ancient history and brings her personal travels and knowledge to each story. This book is no exception. Anyone who wants a good Biblical era story, with accurate setting and background, will enjoy this book.
I received this from Net Galley for my honest review.
Posted June 11, 2014
I received a copy of the book from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.
This book was a well- researched, well-plotted out novel. It flowed well, it was suspenseful, and the characters were fully realized. I enjoyed it very much. Lydia is the perfect protagonist.
Posted June 9, 2014
Lydia is put in charge of mysterious scrolls after her mentor Samuel is murdered. His last words send her on a mission like no other. Herod the Great is disturbing the peace in Judea, Lydias probobal birthplace. She must leave her place as Cleopatras handmaid and find her destiny and the One True God Samuel always talked of.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 31, 2014
This story is a stunner! Stopped in my tracks, I pondered over much that I read. Astonished that factually, this was shortly before Christ's birth, a fact I had not fundamentally grasped about Cleopatra and the cast of real characters’ existence in ancient history (i.e. Caesar, Antony, Herod to the Ptolemaic family). Author Tracy Higley wrote with intense acumen of the murderous politicians, their zealously for power causing turmoil and punishment for the citizens and royalty beyond imagination. I wish my history classes in school and college would have been so clarifying, they would have been much more fun.
Ms. Higley begins this entrancing story about Lydia in 39 BC Orphaned at birth, and given to serve the palace in Alexandria, Egypt at a young age, Lydia is now a handmaid to the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. Herod is about to make his first visit to meet the queen and everything is nervously aflutter in preparation; while Cleopatra is plotting manipulatively to seductively charm Herod politically into her power. Lydia has been summoned by her friend and mentor Samuel. She finds him bleeding and dying from unknown attackers upon her arrival, With only just enough time, he charges her with secret writings of the Prophet Daniel stored in a chest that must be delivered to Jerusalem watchers for the promised King of Israel. Lydia’s journey is long and dangerous and through action-packed events, ultimately becomes the handmaiden to Herod’s bride Queen Mariamme.
Twisting and turning real historical events and people into gripping intrigue made A Queen’s Handmaid one of the best writings I have read. Spiritual mystery combined with the actual coming of Christ kept me glued to the story until finished. Ah, then there is the hint through a simple amulet that could reveal Lydia’s parentage. Whose head will roll next in the line of royalty? Which empire will be shaken next? Drama is highly described. Lydia has many frightening experiences and secret thoughts about all happening around her. Does romance figure into this story? Perhaps, however you will need to read for yourself this incredible book. Trauma is an everyday event in the royal palaces among the royalty and servants…..and that part of the book is not fiction and the players were real people.
I enjoyed the questions at the end of the story and the answers to many questions I had about the research the author ensured before writing the book. Tracy L. Higley gave the reader a wonderful synopsis of information about the political kingdoms’ histories, which was personally greatly appreciated. Beautifully placed before the most important event in life, that remains the whole point of this remarkable story. Thank you Tracy Higley for the greatest history lesson I have ever had. I look forward to catching up with all your previous books before The Queen’s Handmaid. You are blessed!
I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion by the Litfuse Publicity Group. I was not further compensated to review this product and all thoughts and sentiments expressed above are completely my own and unbiased.
(TWJ Magazine strives to guide readers to books of personal interest, with the understanding and respect that what appeals to some may not appeal to others. Therefore we attempt to keep our reviews focused on content, genre and style. The rating is necessary to make use of Goodreads, B&N, and Amazon. It reflects the reviewer’s own level of enjoyment, but the review is intended to be informative for the benefit of all readers.)
Posted April 29, 2014
When I stumbled across this book at the library, I recognized it as Tracy’s newest and was super happy – how often are new publications actually IN at the library? I was thrilled. So I checked it out and made time to read it over Easter. It was enthralling. It concentrates on Lydia, a fictional character who was first a servant to Cleopatra and then to the wife who Herod the Great actually loved, Mariamme. This book was a fascinating take on those historical characters (especially Cleopatra and Herod!). Lydia is absolutely delightful and I would love to meet her. I was amazed by the all the research that Tracy put into this book – the result is stunningly historically accurate book. I’m so excited for Tracy’s upcoming book (don’t know a title yet, but I hear it’ll be about the wise-men??!?!!?) and I’m definitely really enjoying each of her books.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 22, 2014
Tracy Higley has written another wonderful book. The Queen's Handmaid tells about the political climate into which Christ Jesus would be born. I am looking forward to her next book!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 17, 2014
Tracy L. Higley in her new book “The Queen’s Handmaid” published by Thomas Nelson takes us into the life of Lydia.
From the back cover: A jealous Egyptian Queen. A lascivious Galilean Governor. A beautiful servant girl. Theirs is a story of prophecy, self-discovery and revelation.
The year is 39 BC. All of Alexandria awaits the arrival of Herod, the Galilean governor with his eye on the Judean kingship. The handmaid of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, receives a troubling visit from her aging mentor.
Orphaned at birth, Lydia was raised as a servant in Cleopatra’s palace, working hard to please while keeping everyone at arm’s length. She’s been rejected and left with a broken heart too many times in her short life.
But then her dying mentor entrusts her with secret writings of the prophet Daniel and charges her to deliver this vital information to those watching for the promised King of Israel. Lydia must leave the nearest thing she’s had to family and flee to Jerusalem. Once in the Holy City, she attaches herself to the newly appointed king, Herod the Great, as handmaid to Queen Mariamme.
Trapped among the scheming women of Herod’s political family—his sister, his wife, and their mothers—and forced to serve in the palace to protect her treasure, Lydia must deliver the scrolls before dark forces warring against the truth destroy all hope of the coming Messiah.
I enjoy history and when you tell history side by side with Church history then the book is a winner. Tracy L. Higley has truly given us a winner with “The Queen’s Handmaid”. Cleopatra, Herod, Julius Ceasar and the prophecies of Daniel. All of these stories are told through the yes of Lydia, a servant girl, who has been chosen to return the scrolls to Jerusalem. Get ready there are politics, executions, escapes, liaisons, schemes and conniving that will make your head spin. And the characters. Ms. Higley has given us great characters who live and breathe on the pages and draw us into their lives so that we root for the good guys and do not want the bad guys to win. “The Queen’s Handmaid” is great fun. It is history, a thriller, adventure and a romance all rolled up in an extremely entertaining ball.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group. 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.”
Posted April 14, 2014
Tracy's website says, "your portal to the ancient world." This book did not disappoint. It was everything that I hoped it would be... drama, mystery, suspense, historical, and an expression of growing faith in God. It was all of that plus dark secrets, a compelling mission, character refinement and growth, and divine protection.
I have to admit, I got a little confused with the Herods and Caesars. It's not Tracy's fault. She put a chart in the front of the book. They just had some wonky relationships. This was the time of the Julius and Augustus and Octavian Caesars and Marc Antony. Hateful and heartless, the lot of them. Cleopatra plays a starring role and she is just nasty every way you looked at her. She did her share of hateful and heartless things as well. I was shocked at the way human life held no value in their eyes nor did marriage or fidelity.
I came away from this book with a better understanding of the time period of the Hasmonians whom you might know as the Jewish Maccabeans. I never fail to be amazed at the anti-semitism. The Romans and Jews really did hate each other.
I was so happy that Lydia, the central character, was a good decent young woman who was artistic and caring and brought beauty to relationships and locations. Oh pickle loaf sandwiches and popcorn brains, I want to tell you about some things that were so wonderful, but they would just spoil the book for you. I'll hush. ~smile~ This is well worth reading. Do be careful though. Your housework may suffer. Laundry just isn't quite in the same league. ~smile~
I'll give this one five stars. I will be reading every Tracy Higley book I can get my hands on. ~smile~ I recommend you do the same.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from litfuse as part of a blog tour.
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.”
Posted April 11, 2014
Okay, I admit it, I always expect a spectacular experience when reading a new Tracy Higley book. Her amazing attention to detail and obvious extensive research of the time period create an authentic setting far beyond those of other authors of ancient historical fiction. With The Queen's Handmaid, I easily got lost in the feeling that I had been transported to the outskirts of power in 39BC.
The historical characters in this book are a lot more complicated to keep track of than those in most other time periods, simply because of similar names, the extensive intermarriages, and multiple marriages that seem to be traded back and forth. Tracy provides a chart at the beginning of the book that helps keep it all straight for the reader. She told me (via Facebook) that she often referred back to it herself while writing the book.
While the message of the story was not shouted, there was a definite awareness that God weaves the tapestry of history, often using ordinary, seemingly insignificant individuals to fulfill his ultimate plan for the world.
I really enjoyed the story's protagonist, the fictional Lydia. She seemed real both in her strengths and weaknesses. Her fears, hesitations, and feelings of uncertainty provide a beautiful juxtaposition to her ultimate bravery.
The mystery and suspense in this book are very well written. It was not at all obvious how the book would end. I know the reader always knows (hopes) that everything will work out, but while reading the book I found myself constantly wondering just exactly what that "working out" would look like.
There is no question in my mind that you will be richer in experience for having read this book. I know I am.
(I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions rendered are fully my own opinions.)
Posted April 2, 2014
Whenever I pick up a Tracy Higley book, I feel smarter after I’ve read it, and it was no different with her latest, The Queen’s Handmaid. As a non-student of ancient history, I had never considered that Cleopatra lived only decades before Jesus was born. Shows what I know. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)
So, with that new knowledge, I was eager to read this story of Lydia, who is handmaid to Cleopatra in Alexandria at the time of Herod’s visit to the queen of Egypt. During his visit, Lydia is given a seemingly impossible mission by her aging mentor who is murdered not long after he reveals a secret to her. Lydia then embarks on a journey that eventually takes her to Jerusalem as lady’s maid to Herod’s wife, with the mission burdening her at every turn. What she carries with her is the hope of the Jewish people in a Messianic King, a hope Lydia, herself, will struggle with.
In typical Higley fashion, this is a suspenseful and entertaining read. But it’s also hard to follow at times, which is not necessarily the fault of the author but the scope of the story and timeframe. The book covers a lot of years, though the story is not bogged down by irrelevant events. And because the historical characters play a part in the plot, I often found myself confused by which Herod was which and who was connected and related to whom. Again, that’s information for a history book, not necessarily a novel, and I appreciate the way Higley is able to write a story using the historical context without it feeling like a textbook. I wish I knew the history of this time period better so I didn’t have to keep flipping back to the family tree at the beginning of the book.
But let me be clear: those are not reasons to not read this book. By the end, all of the connections and relationships made sense and I was excited about the possibility of another book to come that follows up the events in this one.
Higley is one of those rare authors who makes history lifelike to me, and I can see the events as they happen. Her stories enrich my understanding of Bible stories and events. For those reasons, her books are a must-read for me.
Posted March 30, 2014
The Queen's Handmaid is the latest release from author Tracy L. Higley. In this sweeping historical novel, she takes readers into the Biblical time of King Herod, the Galilean governor bent on increasing his power through acquiring land and kingdoms. He uses his influence with Cleopatra and Mark Anthony to make his gains. Lydia is a young handmaiden who works for Cleopatra. This is when Lydia first encounters Herod who convinces Cleopatra to hand Lydia over to him to work for his betrothed. But Lydia possesses a secret. She must locate a man in Jerusalem at the temple courts and hand over to him the secret scrolls she has been entrusted with. She must guard and keep her task a secret before she is murdered.
What follows is a complex plot filled with numerous fascinating characters, life and death dangerous scenarios, and a gripping good story to the very satisfying end. Murder, secret trysts and alliances, spies, betrayal, love, and loyalty! This novel can boast all of that and more. Good writing and plenty of historical detail makes the story truly come alive. Very highly recommended.
Posted March 24, 2014
You can tell when you're reading a historical fiction novel or in this case a biblical historical fiction novel that the author has done their due diligence and written something so exceptional, you honest wonder how long the research must have taken. In the case of The Queen's Handmaid from best-selling author Tracy L. Higley, she writes the little known fictional story of Herod, the Galilean governor with his eye on conquering as many kingdoms as possible. Using all his influence he begins to form alliances with Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt and Mark Anthony, second in command of Rome. Herod hoped that each of these alliances would lead him to gain more control of the surrounding lands he had already acquired and had hoped that with his marriage to Mariamme he would have an heir to his throne. But Herod the Great would soon face his challenges beginning with Cleopatra who would not give up any control to anyone including members of her own family if she felt threatened. She would have them executed without a second thought.
Lydia is Cleopatra's handmaid who cares for her children at first until she is introduced to Herod. He sees the intelligence and value she possesses and hires her as a handmaid for his soon-to-be wife. Only Lydia is living with a task she must accomplish in her lifetime and one that requires her to locate a man in the temple courts of Jerusalem and provide him with a set of sealed scrolls from the prophet Daniel. She must not divulge this information to anyone and her mentor Samuel was murdered before he could complete the task. Since he left no sons behind to carry on, he has tasked Lydia with helping to usher in future for the nation of Israel. Only if Samuel was murdered for having the scrolls in his possession, so can Lydia.
As things begin to unravel with being in Cleopatra's household, Lydia knows it will only be a matter of time before Cleopatra has her killed as well. Lydia has always proved a threat to Cleopatra not by her words or actions, but by her calm demeanor and how people are immediately drawn to her. Even Cleopatra's own children find solace and comfort in Lydia than with their own mother. So when the opportunity presents itself to flee from Cleopatra and leave secretly with Herod, Lydia realizes that it will not only be for her benefit but also move her closer geographically for finding the one person she can give the scrolls to before they find her. But even Herod has his secret spies working in his own family to ensure their own personal interests and survival, is Lydia any safer with Herod than she is with Cleopatra?
I received The Queen's Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley compliments of Litfuse Publicity and Thomas Nelson Publishers for my honest review. I did not receive any monetary compensation for my honest review and the opinions contained in this review are strictly my own. I am a huge fan of Tracy Higley's literature because of her ability to write the reader into the story. You are just reading it, you're there as part of the story in the background as a silent observer. You can see and feels things so vividly, pictures aren't required. Her ability to utilize the character of Lydia to bring the characters of Cleopatra and Herod to life in a unique way. Based on factual information, she shows you just how manipulative they each were to obtaining their goals and how they played upon others to achieve their selfish aspirations even at the cost of those they loved. It was sad to see how far greed got carried away in their own life and even though they each thought they were in control, they were really being played by others around them without knowing it. Hands down this one gains a 4.5 out of 5 stars in my opinion and can't wait for more from Tracy in the near future.
Posted March 10, 2014
I love historical fiction, and Tracy L. Higley’s Christian fiction novels have not disappointed me yet. (Others I've enjoyed include City on Fire: A Novel of Pompeii and Isle of Shadows.) Her novels always feel accurate and well-researched, which isn’t a surprise since her author’s bio says that “Tracy is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Ancient History and has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Italy, researching her novels.” The author’s notes at the end of the book (yes, I read those) say that this book is the author’s “most ambitious to date, both in scope and the amount of historical fact.” She has a way of clearly explaining the relationships between historical figures – including the many Caesars, Herods, and Ptolemys that show up in this book and the time periods before and after. I also enjoyed the main character in this book, Lydia, who ties all of these cities and rulers together with her story.
The test for me is always whether I have to finish the book in one reading, or am able to put it down to read later. This was a finish-in-one-night book! The Queen’s Handmaid would be a great read if you’re heading on vacation for Spring Break next week, as you’ll be entertained, and will feel as if you have learned a little more about life in Egypt, Rome, and Jerusalem in 39-29 BC. Highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review.