Wow. Just, wow. I'm so thankful the Lord chose Tosca Lee to write about Eve (Havah), Judas Iscariot (Iscariot), and now the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon (The Legend of Sheba). The amount of research and imagination she weaves into her novels is the work of an inspired artisan, and I so appreciate the care with which she handles God's Word.
That being said, however, I will warn you that Tosca's writing is edgy, and she doesn't mask the hard truths about the ancient cultures explored in this book. We first meet the Queen of Sheba--Bilqis--as a young girl, loved and protected. But when her innocence is stolen, wheels are set in motion that shape a lifelong search for a real God and the true meaning of love.
The Legend of Sheba is, in my opinion, more of a character-driven novel than plot-driven, meaning you don't experience the riveting, action-packed storyline, but rather delve deeply into the heart and mind of the fascinating characters. And no one "delves" more beautifully than Tosca Lee with her lyrical style of writing. Honestly, I'm not sure I've ever read anything more beautiful than chapter twelve! I'm talking serious goose-bumps!
Again, this is not a puffy clouds and lollipops story. It's gritty and real and raw, revealing the harsh and pagan realities of ancient cultures of tenth century BC. Bilqis was an unmarried queen who saw a husband as a threat to her throne but needed an heir to succeed her. Solomon was one of the (if not THE) single most enigmatic characters in the Bible--his sensual passions unequaled in word (Song of Songs) and in women (700 wives and 300 concubines, 1 Kings 11:3).
I didn't find any explicit love scenes or profanity in this book, however, it isn't a novel I'd recommend for young teens because of the mature contemplations of both Solomon and Bilqis. What pre-teen or even early teen would fully embrace this internal dialogue from Bilqis:
"Who am I? Daughter, princess, victim, exile, lover, queen, priestess...all identities in relation to someone else--until that other person was gone. And Solomon, the voracious prince...this man missing the first blush of romance with his God who chased it with the concubines, wealth, wives, and treaty."
As adults, we understand the identity crisis Bilqis is working through, and as Christ-followers, we realize that we will one day appear before Him alone--with no one else to lean on or blame. Also as adults, we might identify with the emptiness Solomon experienced when his relationship with Yahweh was hindered by sin. He undoubtedly tried to fill the void with women, wealth, and power as many do today.
The Legend of Sheba has at its core an overarching theme. I believe it's the thing that drives every human being to seek some form of companionship, and I believe we have this natural yearning--this craving--because we were created in God's image--though God experiences the desire perfectly and without sin, of course. What is this desire? I hope you'll read The Legend of Sheba to discover it for yourself. I think you'll agree with me that Tosca Lee has captured the human spirit magnificently.
BTW...be sure to check out her extensive Author's Note at the end of the book for fascinating insight into her research process. If you're a biblical history junkie like me, you'll be astounded by her research journey!
The biblical account of the queen of Sheba is short. It is located in I Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9. In these verses there are very few details about who she was and what surrounded her visit. In The Legend of Sheba Tosa Lee has used her vast amount of research and her brilliant storytelling abilities to fill in some of the gaps.
This book is a literary delight. It is both gritty and beautiful at the same time. If you have delicate sensibilities you may consider passing on this one. But if you aren't faint of heart, you should really enjoy the story. Remember that it is primarily about an ungodly group of people that worshiped multiple idols. During this time in history bloody sacrifices were made by both pagans and believers alike. Temple prostitutes and priests participated in immoral sexual practices and some of these rituals are portrayed. (I should add that Tosca doesn't sensationalize this part but does politely say what is happening.)
If you stick with the story you will eventually come to the point where Solomon and Bilquis begin to exchange letters. Those exchanges are some of the best writing from Tosca's pen. I know it is fictional but I love the voice that she gave to king Solomon through these missives. She also does a brilliant job of intertwining some of Solomon's other writings into the storyline.
Once again Tosca has used her amazing skill with words to pen a compelling tale about two legendary figures. The Legend of Sheba is bound to be another big hit to add to her growing list of titles.
I received a copy of this book to facilitate my review.
Tosca Lee in her new book, The Legend Of Sheba published by Howard Books gives us the Rise of a Queen.
From the back cover: There is the story you know: A foreign queen, journeying north with a caravan of riches to pay tribute to a king favored by the One God. The tale of a queen conquered by a king and god both before returning to her own land laden with gifts.
That is the tale you were meant to believe.
Which means most of it is a lie.
The truth is far more than even the storytellers could conjure. The riches more priceless. The secrets more corrosive. The love and betrayal more passionate and devastating.
Across the Red Sea, the pillars of the great oval temple once bore my name: Bilqis, Daughter of the Moon. Here, to the west, the porticoes knew another: Makeda, Woman of Fire. To the Israelites, I was queen of the spice lands, which they called Sheba.
In the tenth century BC, the new Queen of Sheba has inherited her fathers throne and all its riches at great personal cost. Her realm stretches west across the Red Sea into land wealthy in gold, frankincense, and spices. But now new alliances to the North threaten the trade routes that are the lifeblood of her nation. Solomon, the brash new king of Israel famous for his wealth and wisdom, will not be denied the tribute of the worldor of Shebas queen. With tensions ready to erupt within her own borders and the future of her nation at stake, the one woman who can match wits with Solomon undertakes the journey of a lifetime in a daring bid to test and win the king. But neither ruler has anticipated the clash of agendas, gods, and passion that threatens to igniteand ruinthem both. An explosive retelling of the legendary king and queen and the nations that shaped history.
Biblical, Historical fiction and Tosca Lee go together like Chicken and fried. One mention in the Bible of her one visit to Israel, King Solomon and her famous line, the half has never yet been told regarding his wisdom prompted this wonderful book. Ms. Lee has done a phenomenal job giving us the history so well we feel that we are transported back in time and everything is so real. The characters are handled so well, the relationships are outstanding. Ms. Lee has given us a wonderfully engaging story.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Howard Books. 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 Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
I am unashamed to say that I mostly read and long for more character-driven stories.
When immersed in a novel, the amount of attention I pay to the setting and plot is undeniably less than the focus I place on the novel's characterisation - though, I suppose these elements are arguably interrelated. For the characters to evolve, the plot has to evolve and the setting provides a framework for this to happen. If, according to C.S Lewis, we read to know we're not alone, then, people in literature are the reason why I read, giving me glimpses into hearts that are thirsty for answers, and looking for the way to true life. Hearts just like mine that help me understand this strange world we live in.
There are authors who are masters at characterisation. Then, there is Tosca Lee.
I am truly always left flabbergasted by the humanity she breathes into her characters. Lee latches onto the most forgotten and negatively perceived people from the Bible and boldly magnifies them, exposing their very souls. She is unafraid to show them at their most baldly state while fiercely communicating through her work how fragile and weak we are - social positions, types of intelligence, closeness to God notwithstanding.
Solomon - Who would have thought a wise king so lonely... so foolish. A confused person, he is. The strong, capable figure he is usually portrayed to be, he is not. There are times I seriously wanted someone to slap him, (for his womanising ways, for one) Sheba's queen, maybe, who, I should mention, at some point, dares to gives him a good piece of her mind even as I cheered her on. Such a frustrating character! But so human, I was absolutely beside myself when he wrote some of the most profound words I've ever stumbled across :
'' They call me wise, but wisdom does not guarantee peace. It only reminds us what we do not know - what we cannot know and of our frailties, so that we resign ourselves to them again and again and again, in those rare moments that we let go of the world we must rule'' (41% of the book, around p. 138).
Bilqis - A gorgeous woman, truly, she is a wanderer among wanderers. I love her restless spirit that continually seeks for answers. Her character, along with Salomon's, speaks to me as in spite of her brokenness and emptiness she looks for ways to press through. Lee has beautifully shaped her - strong as the queen she is but as vulnerable as humanity calls us to be.
Their love story - I knew it would be tragic, however, I was not prepared to not be able to read certain parts of its conclusion. Honestly, I am surprised that I had no need for a tissue while reading this book. The degeneration that takes place, on so many levels, toward the end of this story is described through such raw, exquisite emotions, I applaud anyone who was able to thoroughly finish The Legend of Sheba : Rise of a Queen. I was not. Lee's words are powerful. They offer no answers but simply painfully describe what the characters experience, compelling readers to put the book down and breathe once in a while and mull over the story long after they've turned its last page.
Even so, the author's latest offering is not for everyone. Certainly not for conservative believers for she combines different religious accounts of Bilqis to fashion her own. This might bother some people and if so, I would understand, but, I hope readers will also take into consideration the heart of story. What I've found bothered the most were the frequent writings of the name of God - the One True God - with a small g and the fact that from the queen's point of view (in the synopsis) the story told of Sheba - the one of her paying homage to Salomon and his God - is mostly a lie... I know this is a fictional character speaking but I think her thought could have been articulated in a way that would not have made me feel as though she is saying the Bible's account of the story is a lie.
Nonetheless, I cannot deny that this book has provided what most of us have come to expect from Lee : an intellectual challenge for the reader and a mirror for humanity. I will read the next book after The Legend of Sheba : Rise of a Queen.
Masterfully researched story, brilliantly drawn characters, and written only the way Tosca Lee is capable. I truly think this is my favorite of Tosca's books to date. The way Sheba and Solomon are depicted, weaving together various stories of these two legends, drawn from Arabic, Ethiopian, and biblical reports creates a rich and believable tapestry. Compelling and yet heartbreaking. Even the back matter--the Afterword and Author's Notes--were informative and fascinating.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.