I’ve just had both books reviewed by Amos Lassen, a gay activist and scholar of Jewish history. A somewhat abridged version of the reviews is below. And these came just in time for the holidays! So I’m announcing a special holiday sale of the second volume, The Stars in their Courses. Normally you can buy it at this website for $15 plus postage, but from now until the end of December, it is $10 flat–but only if you send a check for that amount to Ebisu Publications, 9026 N. Syracuse Street, Portland OR 97203. Please note that since I am out of town until November 20, all books will be mailed out starting on November 21. Here are the reviews:
The Throne in the Heart of the Sea: Tyre was a major maritime empire in the Ninth Century, B.C.E (for those of you who are not aware, Jewish readers of the Bible and history do not use the initials B.C. but rather B.C.E. referring to that period as Before the Common Era). The king’s daughter, Jezebel, feels that the gods have chosen her to rule Tyre. Elijah, an Israelite farm boy, is bitter and swears to avenge his father’s death at the hands of the king [of Israel].
There is another character, Tamar, a poor, dark-skinned young woman who yearned to be a scribe yet who is also a lover to Jezebel.
I am totally in awe of author Martha Shelley ’s prose and her command of Biblical facts here and I cannot even imagine the amount of research that went into the writing of this book.
We enter the worlds of Ancient Israel and Canaan as well as the lives of the three main characters. It was a world ruled by men and for men and to challenge required great strength and self-assuredness. What Shelley has done here is create characters that although they lived at a very different time in history, somehow seem to be quite contemporary and whose lives mirror ours to a degree. Jezebel, for example, dared to question her father and, in effect, doing so made her also question the status quo. As readers, we get to watch her development just as we watch Elijah transform from an Israelite farm boy into a prophet. (All I can say is WOW!!!).
I have spent a great of my life studying the Hebrew Bible (The Five Books of Moses) and Elijah has always been one of the most mysterious characters in it but here he comes to life and seems so real that I believe everything he says and does. The three major characters come across as being very real and there was a moment when I looked up from the pages of the book and expected them to be in my study with me. I also must mention that the prose is gorgeous. This is a book that must be read. It is not often that we get a treat like this and the best news of all is that there are another two volumes to complete the trilogy.
The Stars in Their Courses: In Book II of her Jezebel trilogy, Martha Shelley gives us a large story of sexual politics and religious wars as well as the clash of empires. Once again we go back to the ninth century; this time to the Levant and once again we see the characters that we read about here much differently than we see in the Bible. Our main characters are Jezebel, Elijah, Tamar and her guard Bez. Bez is a mutarajjul, a woman dressed in male clothing who usually works as a soldier or harem guard.
At the beginning of the book, Tamar is in Egypt with Bez. She has come to further pursue her studies in medicine. Jezebel who had been her lover is now married to Ahab, king of Israel. She knows that if she wants to keep her position, she must give birth to an heir. She also flirts with the women in her husband’s harem. It seems that Elijah, by accident, has begun a massacre and is now on the hit list as the most wanted and dangerous man in Israel. When Ahab is away at war Jezebel takes over the reigns of government. The characters come together in various ways and eventually they will have to deal with Assyria, the mightiest and strongest empire in the world. We see how the characters came to their places in history as well as how they lived their daily lives. We also learn a bit about how they were psychologically— their loves and their hates, what they thought and how they became part of history.
This is a sequel but it is not necessary to have read the first book as this stands on its own. The paths of the characters change in this second volume. There is a lot of drama and a lot of adventure here. There is also a great deal of tension that the reader feels as we move toward the war that has been brewing but to which the characters seem oblivious at times.
Shelley brings history and fiction together and makes it a bit difficult (and a bit fun) to decide which is which. Her research is impressive and she uses it beautifully to weave the stories of these characters. I have one problem with this book is that I have to wait for the third volume and knowing that is a trilogy that will be the end.
Now I have a bit of confession. I have always considered myself something of a gay activist and I know many others who were far more active and vocal than me. However, I ashamedly admit, that I had not heard of Martha Shelley before and after reading about who she is, I am a bit embarrassed to not have known. But now I know that she has been of the leaders in our liberation movement and an excellent writer to boot. She is a marvel of a person and I am so proud to have met her through her writing.
Great review! Historical fiction can sometimes seem stilted or contrived, but Martha’s version is never. She is an engaging and original writer. If you are familiar with the original stories, then these books provide a new perspective with historically accurate details from food preparation, to home design, to medicine. If you are not, you will can enjoy them for the first time here.