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.
Tosca Lee’s latest novel takes on the mysterious Queen of Sheba, known in the Bible for having visited King Solomon. There is no mention of her reign in the history books and we only know about her through the Bible, the Quran, and Ethiopian tradition. In The Legend of Sheba, Lee has woven together elements of these three sources to create her newest masterpiece.
The Legend of Sheba focuses extensively on her relationship with Solomon, first through letters and later during the months she spends in Jerusalem. Both want the best for their country, although their methods of achieving this are different, and neither will back down. We recognize Solomon’s increasing distance from God as he allows his many wives to worship their foreign idols, and it’s no surprise that the people of Israel protest his relationship with another foreign woman. Interestingly, Lee proposes that elements of the Biblical Song of Solomon were written for Sheba’s queen.
Female sovereigns were a rarity in ancient times, so we know this queen had to be strong in personality, and secure enough in her position to undertake a journey of many months. Lee’s queen, however, faces inner turmoil: betrayed many years ago, she finds it difficult to trust anyone with anything other than official business. She also doubts the gods she’s worshipped throughout her life. Becoming queen comes at a personal cost, and she’s left wondering why the gods made her pay such a price. It’s a question we still ask today: why does God cause suffering?
Through The Legend of Sheba we get to picture ancient Middle Eastern cultures. There are vivid descriptions of the wealth exuded by the Sabaean court. The queen often repeats that her country wants for nothing. They export goods such as gold, spices, textiles, ebony and ivory. The caravan to Israel is described in detail, including the seven hundred men and the four hundred camels that accompany them. There are musicians, priests and warriors. One can only imagine the exotic desert scene this would have created as the train stretched out for miles.
If you have an e-reader, I recommend reading Ismeni, which is an e-short prequel to The Legend of Sheba. It’s not required reading, but it is a good introduction to The Legend of Sheba. Several online retailers currently have it available to download for free.
Thank you to Howard Books for my complimentary copy of The Legend of Sheba, which I received in exchange for an honest review.
Do you plan to read The Legend of Sheba? Let me know your thoughts.
Publisher: Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: 09 September 2014
Page Count: 336