Wisdom’s Daughter

Wisdom’s Daughter

by India Edghill

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book, Wisdom’s Daughter by India Edghill.

The books of the Old Testament have been fertile ground for writers, particularly those who want to talk about women’s stories — and this book will be compared to The Red Tent, I’m sure. The story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is biblically speaking a short one, and Ms. Edghill uses the outline to bring the new city of Jerusalem, kings and queens and the king’s many wives to life. We meet the Queen of Sheba, Bilqis, on a mission to save her own kingdom, and meet King Solomon as a man who is not yet a legend, just trying to do his best for his people. There is palace intrigue, fierce competition between the many wives for the favors of the king, and some carefully researched background on the far flung homes of some of the wives — Solomon has collected an Amazon, and an Ethiopian Snake Princess among many others, there’s a prophet who may or may not be the real thing — okay, since he was mentioned by name in the old testament, I’m guessing real thing — and Solomon’s daughter, Baalit, who learns that if your own culture doesn’t value you, go out find one that does.

I’m Kim Alexander and the book is Wisdom’s Daughter on Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80.

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Wisdom’s Daughter by India Edghill.

Around the year 10 BCE, the old testament tells us the Queen of Sheba went to visit King Solomon in the new city of Jerusalem. They exchanged a bunch of gifts and after a while she went back home. That’s pretty much all we get from the bible itself.

It’s not much to go on, but fertile ground for historical fiction — in this case, biblical fan fiction, in the tradition of books like Anita Daimant’s The Red Tent, which this book resembles — taking stories we sort of  know and telling the rest of the tale.

We meet the Queen of Sheba, Bilqis, in the middle of a royal crisis. She’s no longer a young woman, she has no female heir, and only a daughter can take the throne of Sheba. Go Sheba! So she packs up her tents and about two tractor trailers’ worth of loot, and heads off to visit King Solomon, the third king of Israel. Solomon is of course known as a very just man, and Edghill paints him as almost saintly, but in a constant funk because his father David was a greater hero — Solomon still lives in his shadow.  David got to fight enemies and unite a kingdom, and all Solomon can do is collect taxes. Of course, Solomon built the first Temple, but in this story, it’s not been around long enough to overshadow the exploits of his beloved father. Let’s just say that Bilqis sets right to work cheering him up. Does she have an ulterior motive? Certainly. King Solomon has one daughter — the clever and brave Baalit. Sheba needs a new queen, and no one is going to put this girl on the throne after Solomon.

Will Solomon let his daughter leave the kingdom? Will her nasty brother Rehoboam — who actually did inherit the throne of Solomon — try to stop her? And what about Solomon’s wives? They are not excited about Bilqis getting all their king’s attention. I thought that was actually the best part of this book — meeting some of the wives — I think 40 of them — and learning about their lives. It was custom to seal a treaty by sending along a daughter, and the daughters all brought along their own customs, slaves, snakes, dogs and personalities — some bright and good, some petty and malicious. Once in the king’s palace, the only thing these women were allowed to do was have children and gossip. I’m tempted to make a Desperate Housewives joke right here. Edghill does a really good job of letting us see how every move the women made was watched and judged, and while they may have been wealthy and pampered, they were completely slaves to the men in their lives. She then makes the case that the men — particularly the king — are also far from being free, and can’t think of anything but the good of the people. I think I’d still take responsiblity of the ruling class over the life of a peasant, though. Better food at least.

Wisdom’s Daughter is broken into short chapters, narrated by the various characters, and everyone gets a chance to speak — both men and women, the living and the dead. There is opulence and great poverty, kindness and wisdom alongside casual cruelty, and these brave and nameless women are given names and finally get to tell their stories.

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation on Book Radio, SiriusXM Channel 80. Want to talk about books? Email me at Kim dot Alexander at xmradio dot com.

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