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.
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Dim pricks of blue light shone through the shutters’ decorative punchwork. Careful not to wake her sister, Esther braced her hand against one door while she drew back the other. The wooden panel stuck a moment before popping free, letting in the damp, salty air and a view of purplish sky. To the east, the sun cast its first pink glow over the place where the mighty River Atil spilled into the Khazar Sea. Esther raced through her morning prayers, her voice a sibilant whisper.
From her father’s house, high up in the walled city of Atil, Esther could see sailors on the island-sized expanse of an aerocraft carrier’s deck. Some worked with mops and pails; some checked the serried rows of flying machines; one hoisted the kaganate’s white flag, which hung limp in the still air as it jerked up its pole. The decks of the Khazar warships bustled with activity. Men also worked aboard great Ottoman and Persian merchant ships, moored across the river in Atil’s twin city of Khazaran. Fishing boats plied the water. Downstairs, someone dropped a log and swore to her native god. The smell of fresh flatbread rose from the kitchen. Much of the world was at work at this hour, just not the children of the bek’s kender, or chief policy adviser, Josephus. Esther’s sister, Elisheva, still slept, her mouth open, her dark hair trailing onto Esther’s pillow.
Esther slipped out of her nightgown, pulled on the sweater and loose trousers she’d worn the day before, and walked barefoot into the cold hallway and down the stairs. Her boots, like everyone’s, waited by the back door.
On her way through the kitchen, Esther filched a flatbread the older kitchen maid, Afra, had just pulled from the oven. The younger maid, Kiraz, looked up teary-eyed from chopping onions, but didn’t say anything. Holding the hot bread between three fingertips, Esther scooped into the pot of warm lentils over the fire. Afra began to complain—it had been her, swearing a moment earlier—and Esther gestured an apology and said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll clean it up.” Butshe was already at the door, the bread and lentils folded into one hand while she wrestled on her fur-lined boots with the other. When she’d taken them off the night before, they’d been caked with red mud. Someone had brushed them clean.
She had nearly crossed the inner courtyard before Itakh zoomed upbeside her, hopping to pull on his second shoe. He carried a rucksack on his back. Mindful not to hit it or knock the Bukhari kippah off the back of his head, Esther put her free arm around his small shoulder. The top of his head reached her armpit. Itakh took the opportunity to grab the dripping bread and lentils. He took a big, sloppy bite before returning it to her. “Disgusting,” Esther said without meaning it. “You didn’t even bless it.” He was only about nine years old, but should have known better.
He sang out a quick Motzi and wiped his mouth on his forearm.
“Good morning to you too,” she said. Then she tore the bread in half. They kept walking, companionably quiet while they ate. The sharp, dry turmeric in the lentils cleared Esther’s nose. Lentil juice plopped onto the ground.
At the far end of the inner courtyard, the gate stood shut, held fast by a wire loop. Esther swung this up, then drew the gate open, careful to lift as she did so to prevent the hinges from squeaking. Itakh ran through and she closed it again behind them. A higher brick wall surrounded the house’s outer courtyard to protect the whole enclosure from attack. Nestled beneath it were the three small servants’ houses—empty at this hour, as the staff was up working—the storehouse, the barn, whose milk goats and irritable chickens were already out cropping and pecking at the grass, and Esther’s destination, the mechanical stable. As she strode toward it, Itakh ducked off toward the compound’s pigeon loft.
“It’s late, we have to hurry,” Esther said.
Not bothering to look back, Itakh made a gesture of dismissal behind him. Most of the birds belonged to Josephus and a few to foreign governments, who used them to carry intelligence, but Itakh had a passion for them. He kept and trained some of his own, and cared for the whole loft with Esther’s brother, Shmuel. The birds strutted and cooed, excited at his approach. Esther heard the rain like pitter of scattering feed.
The mechanical stable was as old as any building in the compound. In Esther’s grandfather’s time, it had housed the strong-boned natural horses one now mainly saw speckling the countryside, their flanks a pleasing motley of browns and grays. Esther had learned to ride one before mastering their mechanical kin. In her father’s young manhood, Khazaria had invented the mechanical horse, a war machine to protect the rough-terrained homeland from the Rus to the east, the Ottomanim to the south, and oil-hungry Europa to the west. The machines had stood guard as the conflict that brought down the Oestro-Magyar Empire rolled across the steppe to Khazaria’s western border. But the kaganate had not been of interest. A few skirmishes, and the chief combatants had moved on to fight with one another.
In the intervening twenty years, engineers kept improving the horses, which constituted Khazaria’s chief defense in the event of a land war. Early models had been big and clumsy as steer, with shift mechanisms so awkwardly placed and requiring such force to operate, people called them suicide shifters. The most recent model was smaller and faster, more aerodynamic, with the shifter incorporated more safely into the left handlebar. The unpredictable terrain of the steppe had for thousands of years favored the skilled, ruthless warrior, the man who could keep his horse while slicing off an enemy’shead with his broadsword. A Khazar mounted on a mechanical horse could fight with his ancestors’ brutality. The army’s few hundred tanks, purchased from the Rus, were rumored to break down as often as they ran.
As Esther entered her father’s stable, she knew that most of her country’s thousands of mech horses stood ready on the eastern bank of the Dniepra to fight the enemy barreling across Ukraina. She knew the bek had stationed warships in all of Khazaria’s seas and her many rivers. But Josephus ben Malakhi’s horses remained in his compound: four late-model and one hulking, old-fashioned mare called Leyla. Seleme was the one Esther drove. She liked the horse’s idiosyncrasies: the way she might buck an unskilled rider; her general dark temper.
The stable’s pungent petroleum smell filled Esther’s nose. Though she and Itakh had to hurry before her father noticed them missing, she took a moment to breathe in. Bataar, the stable hand, was feeding one machine a bucket of petrol. He lifted his chin in greeting. Esther touched Seleme’s steel muzzle, although the machine could not respond unless she was running. Esther patted her side. A dull, muffled sound emerged.
“She’s fueled,” Bataar said. “Ready to go. Iyimiyiz?” Esther spoke enough Turc to nod and thank him. Bataar put down his funnel and bucket, took a grimy chamois from his pocket, and gave a cursory swipe at Seleme’s integrated saddle and stirrups. Steppe warriors could ride bareback when necessary, but a mechanical horse’s controls were all in its tack. The shift, throttle, and front brake resided in the handle bars that protruded from behind the ears, the rear brake in the right stirrup, the starter behind it. Esther climbed up and over, hooking her left foot tight to get a good jump on the starter. It took a couple of tries to make the engine turn over. Bataar opened up the choke for her; it was a far reach for a person of her size. As she settled onto the rumbling machine, she felt the pattern of Seleme’s riveting rub against the inner seam of her pants. She revved Seleme’s engine, shifted her into reverse, and prodded her with one foot as she eased out the clutch with her left hand to encourage her toward the open stable door.
“We’ll be back shortly,” she said, leaning down so Bataar could hear her over the engine. “Teşekkür ederim.” Her thanks.
Itakh came running toward the stable with one hand cupped overa small bulge in his shirt. One-handed and without even a foothold, he clambered up behind her and mounted the back of the saddle. Though mechanical horses had no provision for a passenger, he was small enough to ride pillion behind her. He wrapped one arm around her waist and held tight. The other must still have been cradling the bird she felt adjusting its position against her back.
“What are you doing?” she asked him.
“I promised Jascha.”
Irritated, she jerked her braid free of him. Dawn had already broken. The bird struggled before seeming to settle in against its master.
Seleme was not built for a casual stroll. She had a 150cc engine and a foul temper, never a lucky combination in a horse. But to the extent that she was capable of feeling anything, she grudgingly liked Esther,the person who drove her most often, and didn’t seem to mind Itakh’s negligible excess weight. So she walked almost docilely toward theouter courtyard wall in first gear. The guard said, “Salaam aleikum,”pulled the wooden latch, and opened the gate.
Esther said, “Aleikhem shalom,” and rolled the shifter forward toclick up into second, the lower trotting gear. She heard the gate shut behind them and the drum roll of aeroplane engines turning overon the carriers in the river. Preparing for their daily exercises, she thought; further proof she and Itakh had gotten a late start. Seleme’s hooves rang against the cobbled street as stuccoed house fronts, slate roofs, and brightly painted window boxes blurred past.
Past the river and the bridge stretched Khazaran’s covered market, onion domes, and the spire of the Nazarene worship house. Moments later, Esther and Itakh saluted a guard at the city’s Great North Gate and passed through. He shouted something after them, but they hurried on without hearing. Once Esther shifted the horse up into third,the faster trot, she was in her element. She let her feet dangle in the stirrups, unafraid of where the chugging machine would go. The exhaust vents in the belly blew warm air against her cold legs. When high-born Khazar men practiced horsemanship, they raced to get the horses up to third. Then, though the right hand held steady on the throttle, the left could fire a pistol or wield a sword.
Esther looked over her shoulder to ask, “What did you get?”
“Yesterday’s bread. A few other things. I could have done better.”A moment passed before he added, “I did remember the bird.”
Bat-winged KAF aerocraft took off westward. Esther pictured the river-crossed steppe they flew toward, all the terrain they would cover before they reached Ukraina and the enemy troops. She turned her mind back to guiding the horse. Seleme would have liked to gallop off toward the fields and grasslands but knew the routine. Esther kepther hands firm on the handlebars, and she headed up the riverbank toward the camp.
One couldn’t see it from Josephus ben Malakhi’s house, or from any wealthy dwelling in the city. When the great, hidden kagan had ordered the bek to give permission for a second camp near the capital, he had mandated its invisibility. Though the kagan never left the enclosure of his palace, he did not wish to see this camp any more than he did the one that sprawled along the banks of the Dniepra in the west. Most people Esther knew agreed with him. Among girls of Esther’s station, there had been a fad the previous winter of knitting for the refugees. Not one girl had gone to present her goat’s-hair hat or mittens to an actual displaced person. Servants had done it for them. Esther sometimes glimpsed Shimon ben Kalonymos in the settlement performing some act of tzedakah or khesed, charity or loving-kindness. Once she had overheard him talking to a man about irrigating his meager garden plot. As far as she knew, the two of them were alone in this predilection among people of their rank. To reach the camp, one continued beyond the port and wound around a wooded hill that concealed a bend in the Atil River. Then the camp opened up to view:a flat, haphazard sprawl as large and crowded as the city itself. Unlike any Khazar city or town, its outermost dwellings stood open to view, vulnerable to attack. There had been no time to build a defensive wall, no great interest in doing it.
Immigrant women by the hundreds were already out drawing river water for cooking. Others slapped wet clothes against the rocks. Many wore old-fashioned, Western-style dresses, though some were in Khazar castoffs, others in rags, and nearly all covered their pale or reddish hair with kerchiefs. Esther knew it was impolite to stare, but she was fascinated by their coloring, their uniformly fair skin. Khazarsdid not even all practice the same religion, and those who were Jews had not descended from a single clan. Under Kagan Bulan, more thana thousand years before, the nation of Turkic tribes had converted in a grand public ceremony. Their ethnic stock was mixed, colorful. Intellectually,Esther understood the refugees’ common heritage, yet she still puzzled over it. At that moment, watching the washer women in the morning light, their foreignness struck her anew.
Some of the women glanced up from their work when they heard Seleme’s engine gutter as she slowed. Most remained intent on their labor. Rukhl alone stood up, her lips pressed into a straight line as she gave a final wring to a heavy brown twist of fabric. She tossed it into one of the reed baskets at her feet, wiped her chapped hands on her dirty apron, and came toward the horse. “Gut morgn,” she said, pushing an orange curl back under the headscarf. When she smiled, her face looked drawn and tired.
Esther left the horse idling in neutral and jumped down. “Gut morgn.” Two nearby women looked at her again. Esther wasn’t sure if they were surprised to hear a Khazar attempting to speak their language or offended by her pronunciation.
“Nice to see you.”
Still cradling the pigeon in his shirt, Itakh brought one leg across the horse to sit side saddle, then slid down. “Wu iz Jascha?” he asked.
At that moment Rukhl’s son came running up, shouting, “Itakh! Did you bring her?”
“This is Nagehan,” he said, and from his shirt produced what looked to Esther like just another messenger pigeon, a repurposed bullet casing strapped to its back. Jascha murmured a syllable of approval, which made Esther look at it more closely. The bird blinked, tilted its head to one side. On second glance, it wasn’t a typical grayor brown pigeon: It was white with delicate gray spotting on its wingsand tail. Its eyes were red, but she thought all pigeons might have red eyes. She seldom paid them much mind, though she did admire the cunning fabrication of the message cases, their tiny straps. Jascha and Itakh bent their heads—one light, one dark—together to examine the bird and talk over her attributes. Like other boys in the camp, Jascha wore a loose-fitting cloth cap with a brim, different from the crewel-work pillbox Itakh and other Khazar Jews wore. The single gold earring of Itakh’s servitude glinted beneath his unkempt hair.
Esther flicked a finger at his rucksack. “Can you take this off?”
Itakh shrugged one arm out, then transferred the bird to his freearm to do the other. He held the bag in Esther’s direction and went back to talking with Jascha.
“Let’s see what he got for you.” Esther crouched down to unbuckle the straps and her braid slipped forward over her shoulder. She wondered if, wearing a Khazar woman’s workday trousers and with her braid visible, she looked indecent to these covered women. She pulled out a pile of day-old flatbreads and handed them to Rukhl, who cleared a space in one of her baskets. Esther opened a heavy cloth bag to see what was inside, then gave it to Rukhl, saying, “Lentils.” When she handed over three onions, Rukhl remarked on them, “Akh, gut:tseibelen.” Some of their papery brown skin fluttered off toward the river.
“Is that all?” Esther called up to Itakh.
“Kiraz came in. I couldn’t get more.”
Esther shook her head.
“Don’t be angry with him,” Rukhl said, “it’s an act of khesed.” To Itakh she nodded and said, “A dank.”
“We’ll try again tomorrow,” Esther said. Other women observed their transaction. Esther couldn’t read their expressions, but imagined them as hostile. When she looked around, she saw how far into the northern distance the camp’s densely packed hovels spread. A stream of aerocraft continued to head westward from the port.
Itakh held the pigeon up in both hands, then flung her toward the sky. She wobbled as she climbed, then began flying in tight, fast circles overhead. Both boys looked up, delighted, and Jascha shouted,“Geyn, toyb! Geyn!” to encourage her. He was an awkward boy, hands and feet too long for the rest of his body. His interest in the bird lent him a sudden grace.
A puddle seeped from under the basket of clean laundry. In Esther’s father’s house, the laundress used a hand-cranked machineto do the wash and a mangle to help dry it. Still it took her all day. Though Rukhl would soon have to get back to work, she said, “What’s the news? Has your father planned your wedding?”
Without looking at them, Itakh replied for her. “After Simkhat Torah.”
“Shut up,” Esther said. Jascha had taught Itakh some colorful swears in his native language, which was full of them, and Itakh had passed them on. She couldn’t repeat them here.
“Why do you tell him this?” Rukhl asked. “How old are you?”
This might not have been the answer Rukhl expected. Her face softened as she drew in a breath, approving. “I too married at your age.”
Esther had never bothered to wonder how old Rukhl was. She now took in the lines in her friend’s face, the irritated skin of her hands. How old was Jascha? Eight or nine, which put Rukhl in her mid-twenties. She looked older. Esther and her sister prided themselves on their smooth, olive skin and the dark hair that had never been cut. She realized she wouldn’t have had either of these had her life been as hard as Rukhl’s.
“What are you thinking?” Rukhl asked.
Esther shook her head.
“The chief rabbi’s son. Be happy.”
“I am,” she said, though she couldn’t conform her face to the expression people liked to see on a happy bride.
“What flowers bloom at Sukkos?” Though she pronounced the word strangely, Esther understood. “I’ll braid them in your pretty hair.” Nothing flowered in the month of Tishri. Winter would blow across the steppe by then. Regardless of the expense, her father would import silk facsimiles of orange blossoms from Persia for her hair. If Khazaria’s enemies had not breached their borders by then. If merchant ships still sailed free in international waters. She felt a sudden shame at her family’s decadence and told none of this to her friend. Rukhl went on, “I’d like to help you prepare. A married woman’s duty.”
“I’d like that too.” Esther would have liked to invite Rukhl to the wedding and the Seven Blessings. But Esther had had so little to do with choosing Shimon ben Kalonymos, she doubted she’d be allowed to choose her guests. A suitable boy, from a good family, her father had said, and you like him, yes? Yes, she did like him. Very much. She had known Shimon since childhood. He was smart and good-hearted. She would enjoy wearing her mother’s scarlet-and-saffron wedding robe. What confused Esther was that today she was some unnamed thing between a girl and a woman, out riding a purloined mechanical horse. In a few months, she’d be Shimon’s wife, living in his father’s house, bearing his children. Someday, she’d be the rebbetzin of Atil. Esther had been raised to expect something like this, but the potential transformation mystified her. And no one had mentioned Itakh,who stood before her now giving exuberant hand signals to his bird. She didn’t want to go to Kalonymos’s house unless Itakh was part of the retinue. Retinue, she thought: a reminder that however dear Itakhwas to her, he was her father’s slave, having relinquished his nominal freedom at the jubilee.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
Book club discussion guide for The Book of Esther by Emily Barton.
1. The Book of Esther creatively blends a reimagined WWII political backdrop, a steampunk (or dieselpunk)fantasy landscape, a Joan of Arc character, commentary on the role of women in Judaism, historical Khazars broughtforward into the twentieth century, and the bones of the story of Esther from the Bible. What did you make of theresult? Did this book remind you of other recent novels that reimagine history?
2. Before reading The Book of Esther, were you familiar with the biblical story of Esther and the Jewish festival ofPurim? If not, what have you learned since reading this book? In what ways does this Esther remind you of her biblicalcounterpart, and in what ways does she surprise you?
3. When Esther’s father refuses to allow her a say in planning Khazaria’s defense, Esther disobeys him and runs awayfrom home with Itakh. Do you think she was right to follow her own moral compass, even though it meant defying herfather? What would you have done in her shoes?
4. Amit reveals a secret to Esther and Itakh about his past. How do you think The Book of Esther contributes to ourcontemporary conversation surrounding LGBTQ issues?
5. Both Amit and Esther take very different paths to achieving goals that seemed out of reach because of theirgender. Who do you think is more successful? More transgressive? And were you surprised that Amit is often infl exibleabout “the way things are done” in light of his secret?
6. How do you feel about the love triangle between Esther, Shimon, and Amit? What do you make of the nature ofEsther’s relationship with Amit?
7. What signifi cance does Esther’s encounter with the volkelake hold? Why does it sway other characters’ opinionsof her?
8. Seleme and the golems display wills of their own although they are manmade. Esther struggles with understandingtheir roles in the world, as well as their relationships to herself, to her fellow humans, and to God. How did you feelabout her empathy toward the golems and mechanical horses? Did you, like Esther, wonder whether they might havesouls or spirits of some kind?
9. Itakh is a slave and has far fewer opportunities than Esther, even though he is considered a “son” of the household.Over time, Esther comes to believe that Khazaria’s system of slavery (which differs from more typical ways we understandslavery in our world) is unfair. Do you think that she will act on this new realization after the war ends? Do youthink she will be able to make a difference?
10. Is it important that Esther and the other principal characters in this story are young people? Why or why not? If you think their age is important, what role do you think it plays in shaping the narrative?
11. Esther and Shimon break tradition by working on the Sabbath, saying that war makes it necessary and thereforeallowable. Others, like some of the refugees, strongly disagree. Who would you side with? Can you think of any moralcodes or religious observances you would bend or break in extreme circumstances?
12. If you are at all familiar with contemporary Jewish religious practices, what differences do you notice betweenthose and what the various Jewish characters practice in the book? How does this fi ctional Judaism refl ect on the realworld? In writing about a somewhat different form of Judaism, is Barton engaged in a sort of modern-day midrash(traditionally, the body of texts that explicate Torah)?
13. Why do you think Barton chose to end this book where it does? Do you think this choice affects the novel’sthematic meaning?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a well-woven, tightly packed tale which hits on heavy themes such as faith, power, the value of diverse individuals and justice. Esther is the daughter of the nation's adviser, well-educated and more than aware of what is expected of her in her position. She's only sixteen but is already promised to be wed to another powerful family—a marriage she's excited about. Her country stands on the brink of war with a very technically advanced Germania, one she's learned does not treat Jews or captives well. She sees the mistakes her country's about to make, and she's sure she can help in the upcoming battle. But she's a woman and, as such, must remain in her place. In hopes of saving her country, her beliefs, and those dear to her, she ventures to a far away land where she hopes to become a man and do what she as a woman is incapable of. I was looking forward to reading this. Esther is an interesting historical figure, who's bravery and faith is often overlooked. Mix that with elements of steampunk, intrigue and threat of war, and this promises to be an engaging ride. The writing in this is very solid. The author does a fantastic job at bringing an alternate dimension to life, while maintaining clarity in the very complex layers of characters, historical elements and intrigue. Esther comes across as a compassionate but brave young woman, who's determination to keep her country safe is simply an inspiration. She's tough, yet warm-hearted and even soft at moments. Her curiosity and cleverness make her a character to cheer for to the very end. This, added with the entire question of women's place in a male driven world, give tons of depth to this novel. But sometimes, less is more. While the author manages to masterfully maintain order in what could easily roll over into chaos, this book was still too packed for my taste. The historical elements wrap around each other, taking events and historical figures from multiple eras and fusing them together into one war. Each historical event was tremendous on its own, and this mixture threatened, at least for me, an overload. Add the mixture of steampunk technology and a dose of the feel of Game of Thrones, and it grows too rich. The last pinch of gender identity toppled it over the edge and made this a read I simply couldn't connect with. That the author is able to hold all of this together without a shake of doubt, speaks volumes about their talent. Although this is a very well-crafted tale with tons of elements to promise an exciting read, it simply wasn't a book for me. I received a complimentary copy from Blogging for Books and wanted to leave my honest thoughts.
I don't really know where to start with this book. The premise sounded really cool and I wanted to love this book! It follows the Jews in an alternate reality as Hitler wins WWII. It's kind of steampunk, kind of historical fiction, kind of fantasy, kind of adventure, kind of Christian... ug! It's just this hodgepodge of genres that sort of confused me when meshed all together. However, kudos to the author for being original! I have NEVER read another book like this. Okay, let me break this down a little more. This is the story of a young woman (16 years old) named Esther. As more and more Jewish refugees come to her country from Europa to avoid the Germania attacks, Esther begins to realize there is a problem. Esther is the oldest daughter and destined to marry the Rabbi's son, however, she wants to fight and save her people. Sound familiar? Sound similar to a story from a well known book? Yeah, that's cause it is. Now, let's get some mechanical horses, aeroplanes, and golems involved in the war and you have this book. I will warn you, push past the first couple of chapters. They are pretty much information dumps. There are a bunch of words I didn't get because I only speak English and a gazillion names that I couldn't follow thrown at me at the beginning. I felt like I needed a flow chart or kept having to flip back to see who was who again. I couldn't keep them straight. Once I got past that, it was pretty good. It moved a bit faster, but that first part of it was really hard to get through as I figured out what the heck was going on with the story. For full review, see my blog: http://smithlinda60ls.wixsite.com/lrrsmith/single-post/2016/09/23/Book-Review-The-Book-of-Esther
This book definitely leans more towards those with a strong love for feminism and historical fiction.While Esther's strong sense of preservation for her culture is something to be admired, the fact that she actually wants to change her gender completely in order to protect it (her culture) sends the wrong message. She definitely is a strong character, and as a warrior she is phenomenal. Esther learns a lot about who she truly is and about her place in the world as a women. She is driven by those who have told her all her life, that she can't do something because (as a women) it's not her role to take on. Barton's writing style is certainly different than what I'm used to reading. Granted I've never really picked up any books that weren't YA affiliated. She did a wonderful creating such an immersive, alternative world. I can't imagine how much research she had to go through for this story. Although this book had it's moments, the overall feel was a little droll. I became a little bored and sometimes even confused. There were several Jewish words and idioms that (not being Jewish) I didn't understand or relate to. There could have at least been a glossary in the back! Just a small one. (When I read I don't want to waste time looking up definitions and origins.) On top of that there just seemed to be too much going on. This book had elements of Judaism, steampunk, werewolves and war! Oh and I read the word mafia a few times. Also a little bit of magic/mysticism. Also........golems. What on earth was the author trying to create here? It's almost as though she got really excited and couldn't choose one direction, so she just chose them all. At the end of the day I'd have to give the book 2 out of 5 stars. I just couldn't get into it. I felt detached from the whole story. While I liked Esther's character I just didn't feel a connection. Which is a shame because I think this book had the potential to be amazing. Also I was extremely excited when I received this in the mail. Simply couldn't wait to get into it! I still recommend it. To anyone who likes historical fiction, great adventures of war, heroism and just something different. What didn't work out for me may work out for some of you. I mean just read that synopsis, that alone is what drew me to this book. So give it a go and decide for yourself :) I may re-read this later with a refreshed mind.