Thanks to the folks at covenant for giving me the change to do this review. I usually really enjoy H.B. Moore’s novels about women in the scriptures but this one, while a convincing historical, wasn’t one of Moore’s best novels in my opinion.
First, I think Moore does beautifully writing concrete descriptions that make the setting and time-period come alive. Second, she does make Deborah an interesting, practically mythical character. The first sequence where she takes on a lion and defeats a band Canaanites is the stuff of legend. I also love the scene where Deborah is trying to kill off a snake who had been biting her sheep and ends up in a snake nest. It’s fun to read about a woman who hunts and is physically active and strong. The author does this in a way that it feels natural to the character and the organic result of her circumstances so that you don’t feel like you are reading a girl power novel, though that is exactly what you are reading.
The novel is written in two parts the first half cover the romance and young adulthood of Deborah. In addition to telling the story of her romance with her husband Lapidoth, it tells the story of her coming to recognize her spiritual gifts and how they become apparent to her community. The first half also lays the groundwork of the conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanites. In the second half of the novel, preparation for conflict between Israel and Cannan has intensified and Deborah is called as the Judge of Isreal and deals with the logistics of that. Finally, the book ends with one large battle and the revelation that Jael has killed Sisera.
My biggest critique about the novel is that the characters were a little flat for me. I’m not one to get annoyed that characters are too good to be interesting or that a historical portrayal is too clean to be compelling but I felt this way about this book. I think the problem lies in the fact that the relationship between the characters lacks a dynamic tension. The character story arcs almost felt like an afterthought to the biblical narrative. And while on the one hand it is nice the author doesn’t engage in gender politics, on the other hand, it feels unrealistic to ignore it in certain instances. There were a couple of scenes that had no point to them and I wondered why they were included if the author wasn’t going to use them to create tension or foreshadow something in the plot. I wondered if perhaps a subplot had been cut out at some point a few times.
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