From the publisher:
From the servant halls of Cleopatra’s Egyptian palace to the courts of Herod the Great, Lydia will serve two queens to see prophecy fulfilled.
Alexandria, Egypt 39 BC
Orphaned at birth, Lydia was raised as a servant in Cleopatra's palace, working hard to please while keeping everyone at arm's length. She's been rejected and left with a broken heart too many times in her short life.
But then her dying mentor entrusts her with secret writings of the prophet Daniel and charges her to deliver this vital information to those watching for the promised King of Israel. Lydia must leave the nearest thing she’s had to family and flee to Jerusalem. Once in the Holy City, she attaches herself to the newly appointed king, Herod the Great, as handmaid to Queen Mariamme.
Trapped among the scheming women of Herod’s political family—his sister, his wife, and their mothers—and forced to serve in the palace to protect her treasure, Lydia must deliver the scrolls before dark forces warring against the truth destroy all hope of the coming Messiah.
My take: The Queen's Handmaid, new historical fiction from author Tracy L. Higley, follows the story of Lydia, an orphan and a servant to royalty. With good reason, given her past, she trusts few people. Through her story we see the good and bad inside the palaces of Cleopatra and Herod. We see the machinations within the political and family structures. The author, who includes a section called "The Story Behind the Story," explains that she was true to history for much of the book. She has taken some creative liberty--which we expect in fiction, right?--including adding the character of Lydia to be the thread throughout the story.
At first I thought this book would be slow reading because of the descriptive language. For example, this sentence is on the first page:
From somewhere in the cavernous palace came a haunting melody plucked on lyre strings, but the gray walls of the darkened corridor tunneled away from the sound to the south wall.
However, I was quickly involved in the story and couldn't put the book down. I read nearly the entire 380-page book in two days. (No worries: I still cleaned the house, washed clothes, and got dinner on the table.) I liked Lydia, I liked the twists and turns, and I liked the intricate web of relationships. I especially appreciate that the ending was not predictable.
I have been practically inhaling fiction lately, and this book is my favorite of all the books I've read recently. If you like historical fiction set in biblical times, I encourage you to check out The Queen's Handmaid.