~ About the Book ~
Five decades before the birth of Christ, Chava, daughter of the royal tutor, grows up with Urbi, a princess in Alexandria’s royal palace. When Urbi becomes Queen Cleopatra, Chava vows to be a faithful friend no matter what–but after she and Cleopatra have an argument, she finds herself imprisoned and sold into slavery.
Torn from her family, her community, and her elevated place in Alexandrian society, Chava finds herself cast off and alone in Rome. Forced to learn difficult lessons, she struggles to trust a promise HaShem has given her. After experiencing the best and worst of Roman society, Chava must choose between love and honor, between her own desires and God’s will for her life.
Series: #1 The Silent Years
Release date: 4 July 2017
Publisher: Bethany House
~ Excerpt ~
Suddenly shy, I took Urbi’s free hand and leaned closer. “Two night ago, HaShem spoke to me.” I squeezed her fingers, waiting for her to shiver as I had when I heard the voice.
Her eyes flew up at me like a pair of frightened crows, then she pulled her hand away and playfully slapped my arm. “You should not tease me, Chava.”
“I am not teasing. We were at dinner, and I heard a voice no one else seemed to hear. Best of all, He spoke to me about you.”
Urbi gave me a quick, distracted glance and attempted a smile. “Did He say I would be beautiful? Did He say I would be queen?”
I deepened my smile. “HaShem said my friendship with the queen lay in His hands, and that we would be together on your happiest day and your last. And that I would bless you.”
I grinned at her, thrilled to share such a wonderful foretelling, but Urbi’s face did not reflect my joy.
“Your friendship with the queen,” she repeated, her voice hollow. “What if He were talking about Berenice?”
I frowned. “Why would HaShem talk about her? I have no friendship with her. I do not even know her.”
“And you will be with me on my last day? You have just given me a reason to never see you again.”
I stiffened, momentarily abashed. “I am sure HaShem did not mean it that way. You’re not about to die.”
“How do you know?” Her brow wrinkled as something moved in her eyes. “The Ptolemies have been known to kill their brothers and sisters. How do you know Berenice won’t murder me?”
“Because . . .” I grasped for any reason available. “Because your father is coming home.”
“He won’t arrive for months. She has plenty of time to kill a princess.”
I sat perfectly still, stunned by the taut expression on Urbi’s face. She had never revealed this fear, but clearly she had often thought about the danger of being so close to the throne.
“I won’t let anyone kill you.” I straightened and propped my hands on my hips. “If I have to, I will sneak you out of the palace and you can live with us. No one would ever think to look for you in the Jewish Quarter.”
Annoyance struggled with humor on her face as she glared at me. “You are a foolish, naïve girl,” she said, bending her knees. “But I am glad I have you.” She hugged her knees and lowered her head, then abruptly lifted it. “My happiest day?” She arched a brow. “I wonder when that will be.”
“Perhaps when you marry,” I suggested. “Or when you have your first child.”
She leaned forward and peered through the open doorway, her eyes bright with speculation. “Wouldn’t it be tragic if my happiest day was also my last?” She lowered her gaze, her long lashes shuttering her eyes. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it were.”
“You cannot think that way, Urbi. I am sure you will have many, many happy days—and as your best friend, I plan to be there for all of them.”
“Swear to it?” She turned as her eyes searched mine. Then she caught my hand and peeled back my fingers revealing my flat palm.
Breathing in the fragrance of incense, I stared at her, uncertain of her intentions.
“Forever friends,” she said, an odd, faintly eager look flashing in her eyes.
As I nodded, she pulled a short blade from the girdle at her waist and gripped my left wrist. I pulled back, but before I could break free she lifted the blade and swept it over my palm, slicing the skin from above my thumb to the end of the curving lifeline. I caught my breath as the glade stung my flesh, but I knew better than to cry out.
Then, imposing an admirable control on herself, Urbi opened her left hand and made the same cut on her own palm. She held it up as the blood dripped from the red arc and stained the silk sheet beneath us.
“Forever friends,” she repeated, pressing her bleeding cut to mine. She locked her fingers around my hand. “You are blood of my blood, and heart of my heart.”
“Blood of my blood,” I echoed. “Heart of my heart. Friends forever.”
~ Review ~
This was one of those books that commanded my attention while I was reading it, yet somehow left me a little disappointed at the same time. I love reading historical fiction based around actual historical figures—particularly political or military leaders who have played a huge role in shaping history. I don’t even mind when the story invents (or fleshes out) an unknown companion as a narrator, such as Chava in this story, but in this case I thought it was a little misleading to label the book ‘A Novel of Cleopatra’. Despite Cleopatra’s influence in Chava’s life, she remains little more than a background character in the novel.
The novel begins in Urbi and Chava’s childhood, capturing the essence of their developing friendship from the age of eleven, when they swear to be forever friends, through to Urbi’s rise to the throne as an eighteen-year-old and the early years of her reign as she shares the throne with her ten-year-old brother. Throughout this time, Chava holds fast to the words she believes HaShem (God) spoke to her one night: Your friendship with the queen lies in my hands. You will be with her on her happiest day and her last. And you, daughter of Israel, will know yourself, and you will bless her. As a result, Chava refuses to marry, believing her place is beside Cleopatra, and she waits patiently for the time when Cleopatra will finally call her to the palace to be her lady-in-waiting.
My attention began to wane during this first part of the story because it felt as though the real story was happening to Urbi, and Chava was simply relating what she could see from the sidelines. But then things drastically changed for Chava, and not in a good way. From here, the story became more engaging, because it really was Chava’s story, rather than Chava waiting to take her place in Urbi’s story. But a word to sensitive readers: The first century BC was a brutal world. There were a few events in Chava’s journey that turned my stomach, and while the story didn’t dwell on them, simply knowing they took place was unsettling enough.
From a historical point of view, the novel was well researched, and I found myself wishing I could visit the Alexandria described in these pages, but Chava’s story felt less compelling than the political figures in whose shadows she stood, and I couldn’t help wanting more of their stories; more of the tensions between Octavian (Augustus Caesar) and Mark Antony, and more insight into Cleopatra’s motivations.
Still, it was an interesting read overall, to see the way in which Chava’s life was taken completely out of her control, but HaShem used that to fulfil the words He spoke to Chava in His own way, rather than in the way Chava had envisaged.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review, which is my honest and unbiased opinion.
~ About the Author ~
Christy-Award winner Angela Hunt writes for readers who have learned to expect the unexpected in novels from this versatile author. With nearly five million copies of her books sold worldwide, she is the best-selling author of more than 100 works ranging from picture books (The Tale of Three Trees) to novels.
Now that her two children are grown, Angie and her youth-pastor husband live in Florida with Very Big Dogs (a direct result of watching Sandlot too many times). This affinity for mastiffs has not been without its rewards–one of their dogs was featured on Live with Regis and Kelly as the second-largest canine in America. Their dog received this dubious honor after an all-expenses-paid trip to Manhattan for the dog and the Hunts, complete with VIP air travel and a stretch limo in which they toured New York City. Afterward, the dog gave out paw-tographs at the airport.
When she’s not home writing, Angie often travels to teach writing workshops at schools and writers’ conferences. And to talk about her dogs, of course.