Review: The Legend of Sheba by Tosca Lee

Historical Fiction has a way of bringing history, both the well-known and the little-known to life. This is one reason I enjoy it. Authors and spin a vivid tale that my imagination’s eye can watch these events unfold. Another, is that sometimes as they tell a historically based story, it makes me curious which leads to research. Tosca Lee’s The Legend of Sheba was one of these stories. Like others in history, hearing the name “The Queen of Sheba” evokes certain images: wealth, beauty, exotic. In my research, I was surprised to learn how little is known about this queen whose name is so familiar.

While I might not wholeheartedly agree with all that Tosca Lee included about the queen (see more review on why) I found this book fascinating.

Check out my review for Ismeni (a short prelude to The Legend of Sheba).

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Book Synopsis: Her name is legend. Her story, the epic of nations. The Queen of Sheba. A powerful new novel of love, power, and the questions at the heart of existence by the author of the award-winning “brilliant” (Library Journal) and “masterful” (Publishers Weekly) Iscariot.

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 father’s 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 world—or of Sheba’s 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 ignite—and ruin—them both. An explosive retelling of the legendary king and queen and the nations that shaped history.

Tosca Lee is a wordsmith. Her writing is eloquent and word choice purposeful. From the first page, her writing style impressed me. The descriptions in her novel were quite vivid, and since the novel is told in first person, the same descriptions had an exotic feel to them. In many ways, the style of her writing told the story.

For me, this was a slow book to read. The reader is immersed in the land and customs, with little explanation. The nation of Saba is a pagan culture. There are oracles, omens, and sacrifice. For me, I found it hard to just jump into all of this. Along with unfamiliar place names, cultures, and other items. But when I took my time reading and focusing on the words on the page, I followed what was happening.

As a character, Bilqis, was quite interesting. From her questioning of religion and her desire of wisdom, she has a strong presence in the novel. While she is a strong woman, she also is a broken woman. The way she changes through the book is subtle, but it’s there. It was interesting to see a way in which a woman had become queen in a nation and time when women rulers were scarce, and women were sold and bartered to make allies.

Part of me enjoyed this telling of the Queen of Sheba. I quickly figured out that Tosca Lee borrowed from a variety of historical texts, including the Bible, and combined them to tell the story. There are things included that are not mentioned in the Biblical account, but are mentioned in others. While I tend to look at the Bible as truth, I struggled with this a bit in this story. From a historical perspective, I can appreciate the weaving together of all of these accounts into a novel of a “how it could have happened” nature.

Overall, I found the book fascinating, even with it’s incorporations of various tales about the Queen of Sheba. Afterall, most of these historical texts tell us a lot about the cultures and societies in which they were written. A word of caution to those deciding to pick up the book, while there isn’t anything explicit, there are quite a few sexual references both in the context of marriage and outside of marriage.

If nothing else, this is one of those books that bring a historical figure to life and gives them personality, emotions, problems, and some happiness. It breathes life into a person we truly know little about. For someone who reads this book, perhaps it makes them wonder who the Queen of Sheba really was and how she became queen known for wealth, beauty, and her exotic world.

This book will be available September 9, 2014.

For more on the author or this book, please check out the following links:

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**I received a free copy of this book from Howard Books and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review**


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