One of the smartest things Amazon ever did was to put in that little, "Customers who've bought this also bought ..." bar. I've bought five or six books from that bar that I've never heard of otherwise. One such book was a book I discovered there yesterday, and finished very quickly yesterday. It's called A Reluctant Queen by Joan Wolf, and it was a historical fiction retelling of the story of Queen Esther. I would say this book was for high school students, but no one younger.
And, can I just say - Ms. Wolf knows how to write historical fiction. Most historical fiction books that I've read are basically love stories set in a different time frame. These authors justify calling it historical fiction by putting in historical pieces and thrusting in facts about the time period. This makes the story kind of awkward, and doesn't give you a picture of the time. Ms. Wolf did not have that problem at all - not at all. I felt like I was standing in the middle of Persia, and I got a pretty good idea of what it must have felt like to live in Persia as a Jewess like Esther. Ms. Wolf flawlessly combined Esther's story with the events of her time, especially the recent defeat of the Persian army at the Greek city of Marathon.
Ms. Wolf's writing skill is also very admirable. There was no awkwardness in her writing, and she made the characters come alive. Esther was an engaging entity, and her two servants were equally fun to read about. Ms. Wolf also included several soldiers in her writing, and those poor guys just had me laughing. I even liked King Ahasuerus - me and everyone else in the Persian Empire.
Something to keep in mind is that A Reluctant Queen is historical fiction, not a commentary on the book of Esther (at least, I'm assuming that's how the author meant it to be.) There are some inconsistencies between the Biblical account and the novel, but they are all in historical aspects, not in theological aspects. There was only one historical difference that really bugged me - the novel calls Haman an Edomite, when he was really an Agagite. I have no idea what an Agagite is (for all I know it could be another term for an Edomite.) The Edomites, however, were descendents of Esau, Jacob's twin brother. This was a big deal because, as the novel details, there was a strong current of friction between Edomites and Israelites. For that, I'm only giving A Reluctant Queen 4.5 stars out of five. Other than that one detail, I absolutely loved this book, and I would recommend it to any high school student. I will be looking for more Joan Wolf books.