Title: The Book of Esther Author: Emily Barton Genre: Historical Fantasy Series: none
Blurb Eastern Europe, August 1942. The Khazar kaganate, an isolated nation of Turkic warrior Jews, lies between the Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) and the Khazar Sea (the Caspian). It also happens to lie between a belligerent nation to the west that the Khazars call Germania—and a city the rest of the world calls Stalingrad.
After years of Jewish refugees streaming across the border from Europa, fleeing the war, Germania launches its siege of Khazaria. Only Esther, the daughter of the nation’s chief policy adviser, sees the ominous implications of Germania’s disregard for Jewish lives. Only she realizes that this isn’t just another war but an existential threat. After witnessing the enemy warplanes’ first foray into sovereign Khazar territory, Esther knows she must fight for her country. But as the elder daughter in a traditional home, her urgent question is how.
Before daybreak one fateful morning, she embarks on a perilous journey across the open steppe. She seeks a fabled village of Kabbalists who may hold the key to her destiny: their rumored ability to change her into a man so that she may convince her entire nation to join in the fight for its very existence against an enemy like none Khazaria has ever faced before.
Aside Okay guys, I’m finally back and ready to do this review! In case you were wondering where I’ve been, go check out THIS POST to read all about it! (Warning: Extreme Happy Screeching)
Anyway, on with the review!
What I Liked There are a lot of topical things in this book: mistreatment of refugees, anti-Semitism, religious persecution, transgendered characters, and legal slavery all play important roles in shaping Esther’s character and the story at large. The development of the golems, in my opinion, was breathtaking, and some things that happened with them made me actually weep tears as I was reading on the train (that’s always a great feeling, crying in public next to complete strangers because of a thing that happened to an imaginary dirt dude).
What I Would Have Liked to See I would have liked a more concrete ending. It wasn’t a “stay tuned for the exciting conclusion in the sequel” ending; it was more of a “now you get to imagine the ending” ending. I like the latter better than the former, but I still prefer a solid ending handed to me by the writer.
My Favorite! If you’re Jewish or a history scholar (or both), you will enjoy the crap out of this book. Barton resurrects the Khazars (who were in reality wiped out by Sviatoslav I in the 10th Century) in stunning depth. She has turned this extinct civilization into a believable modern-day country, and done it so well that I had to remind myself Khazaria is not a place anymore.
TL;DR Steampunk alt-WWII history with steampunk horse-motorcycles (which were so freakin cool I’m putting “horsie-cycle” on my birthday wish list for the rest of my life), living mud-men (golems are a Favorite Thing of mine), fierce mounted Central Asian warriors, and uhhhh steppe werewolves??? Spectacular read for 16+ (I don’t know what the exact targeted age group is but I know I would have loved to read this as a teen).
FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review! All opinions are my own.