Thanks to NetGalley and the author for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
This novel will polarise readers. Because of its rewriting (or perhaps reinterpreting) the facts of the life of Jesus (or Yeshua in the book) committed Christians might find it difficult to read (if not altogether offensive). Entire episodes of the life of Christ depicted as sleights-of-hand set in order to gather support and get all Jews together under a Leader will sound irreverent at the very least.
Those readers with no particular attachment to Christian beliefs might have other issues with the novel. The story is told from many different points of view, alternating but not always in the same order, by characters whose names are sometimes very similar. Especially at first, this might be confusing, as we are not sure where we are or who is talking to us. Readers who have at least a superficial working knowledge of the Bible will come to identify many of the historical figures/characters that appear in the novel, although I personally think a cast of characters with brief information and perhaps identifying them by the names they are best known would help.
All the characters are intriguing, especially to people who might have read very different versions of them. I particularly enjoyed Myriam (Mary Magdalen), who in this version is a shaker and mover, a thinking woman, and one determined to get her people out of the Roman clutches. She’s strong, independent, determined, and takes charge of her destiny without hesitation (although there are doubts, unavoidably so). Yeshua is difficult to reconcile with the image I have of Jesus, but that doesn’t make him any less interesting (perhaps more interesting even). The book is quite short and although there is no time spent delving deeply into each character, there is enough to whet readers’ appetites and to make us hope for more development in future instalments.
The book doesn’t provide lots of detail about the places visited and is not heavy on descriptions. On the other hand, it does a good job at portraying the politics, the economic relationships and the power struggles between the different players. It manages to give an utterly modern spin to the conflicts of the time. This is not the history of dusty respectful tomes that only list “facts” but rather, a dynamic and familiar state of affairs that will make us think.
This reimagining of the story of Jesus as a conspiracy/ploy to conquer power and move people might not fit in easily in the category of historical fiction (not enough detail, too many liberties taken, not sure about how closely the language and customs have been adapted from the originals), but as a challenge to our preconceived notions and a new way of looking at a story that perhaps we’ve never dared to question, it succeeds. And it has some pretty amazing characters too. You might like it or not, but I can assure you that if you read it, you won’t forget it in a hurry.