Saturday 16 July 2011

The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn

I have a weakness for historical fiction - I love losing myself completely in another time and place.  The Gilded Chamber is a retelling of the story of the Jewish festival of Purim, where Queen Esther saves her people from slaughter.  Born as Hadassah, she is living with her cousin Mordecai (to whom she is betrothed) when she is forced to enter the harem of King Xerxes of Persia as a desirable virgin.  By keeping her Jewish identity secret and appealing to the King, she eventually becomes his wife.  When the King comes under the influence of his advisor Haman, Esther risks her life to save the Jewish population.

This book was a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses.  The main strength was how realistically the female characters and the life of women in this time were portrayed.  The sections about the harem rules and rituals were fascinating, and Kohn did a good job at showing how life was hard even for a Queen, let alone a lowly dancing girl.  The writing was smooth flowing and descriptive, meaning that I could imagine myself in Ancient Persia.  It was also a hard book to put down.

But there were weaknesses too.  Esther's great love for Mordecai went unexplained and therefore it was hard as a reader to understand why she loved him for all of that time.  The male characters were very one-dimensional, especially Haman, who had the potential to be a much more nuanced villain.  I also did not enjoy the flashbacks that Esther would experience whenever a traumatic event happened as I felt they interrupted the narrative flow right when something interesting was going on and I wanted to find out what would happen next!

Verdict: An interesting retelling of a biblical story.
Source: Library
Score: 3 out of 5


  1. I love historical fiction, and The Gilded Chamber is on my wishlist. Despite the weaknesses you mentioned, I think I would like to give it a try.
    Thanks for the review!

  2. It sounds like this would be really interesting to read about, if not terribly well executed. Sometimes I find historical fiction a bit like that, but I usually enjoy it anyway just because I like learning about other times and places in history. Also, I've got a thing for biblical stories too :-)

  3. Misa - It was an enjoyable read, but could have been better. I can't wait to read The Red Tent.

    Mummazappa - That's exactly right. I hear that The Red Tent is a better retelling of a biblical story.