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Wisdom's Daughter: A Novel of Solomon and Sheba    by India Edghill order for
Wisdom's Daughter
by India Edghill
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

From thirteen brief verses in the Bible, India Edghill has fashioned a beautiful story of what might have happened when the Queen of Sheba met King Solomon. Well plotted and richly imagined, the novel overflows with stories and personalities. It is a good thing there are maps and a list of characters and even family trees (although the difference between the Roman and Italic type in the latter is not as great as it should be).

Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba, has no heiress and is beyond child-bearing age. She seeks to solve this problem in the land of Israel, where Solomon reigns. He has many wives and children, but his favorite is Baalit, his daughter by his deceased first wife Abishag. The royal house of Sheba is a matriarchy in the fullest sense. Military strength is provided by women. Male servants are mostly eunuchs. The royal house of David, therefore, has many surprises for Bilqis and her court. They cannot imagine how the wives of Solomon can be happy, housed as they are in their own area of the palace, separated from all worldly affairs. The queen's visit lays bare many stories, not least of which is that of Solomon as husband and father. Just as Bilqis must return with a future queen, so must Solomon come to understand how his continuing grief for the deceased Abishag has blinded him to the reality of his living family. The author has created a powerful story in the meeting of Solomon and Bilqis, which turns out to have important ramifications for so many others in this novel.

Necessarily more fiction than history, the novel fleshes out Solomon's famous judgment of the two mothers who claimed the same child. Though well done, the scene seems a bit obligatory in the context of the story. Nevertheless, this is fine historical fiction. Rich in detail, descriptions of the lavishness of both courts, the exotic jewelry and dress, as well as of the pets that amused the queens and the horses that served royalty, make this a highly visual novel. Advancing the story from each character's point of view was not an easy choice and would be very hard to follow were it not for all the upfront maps and guides, but somehow it rings true with most of the characters. Though the novel is written from a feminist point of view, the male characters do not suffer, and we are enriched by the unusual perspective. Wisdom's Daughter is highly recommended.

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