“This is not wonderful fantasy come true.” So says Sachi to Nalussa in Solomon’s Concubine by S. A. Jewell. Solomon’s Concubine is a thoughtful, fictionalized look into what it might have been like as a beautiful, but poor, young virgin Israelite woman chosen to join Solomon’s vast harem. Nalussa, as well as her new friends, Sachi and Abra, had been found, paid for, and delivered to Solomon’s harem without much ability to decline.
True, most of the women chosen would see wealth unimaginable in their normal family life. But are the dazzling accoutrements of Solomon’s palace worth being taken from your family at a young age? Or worth the price of never seeing your loved ones again? Especially since these young women will be virtual prisoners for the rest of their lives. What happens to them when they grow older? What happens to them when Solomon dies? His harem is so vast, will he even see them or interact with them at all? So Sachi’s remark to Nalussa is apt and also captures Nalussa’s own feelings.
Slow But Steady
S. A. Jewell leads the reader on a somewhat slow journey through the preparation of Nalussa and her friends for their initial meeting with Solomon. Fright and sorrow are evident in Solomon’s short and disastrous interaction with Sachi, which ends in her suicide. Nalussa becomes a favorite of the king because of her extraordinary beauty and intelligence. All Abra wants is to soak in the luxury and bear a child of Solomon’s.
Meet Makeda, the Queen of Sheba (an ancient city-state that was on the Arabian peninsula), who comes to see Solomon for herself. And see if all the rumors she’s heard are true. During a banquet given by Solomon, Makeda and many others stare at Nalussa because of the physical similarities between the two women.
After the king’s death, what will happen to the two friends? Especially since Abra got her wish and is pregnant with Solomon’s child. Enter Adriel, the officer charged with procuring the women for Solomon’s harem. Adriel and Jasper (Nalussa’s brother, enlisted to help by Adriel) guide the women out of the country. What becomes of the foursome takes up the last third of the book.
I enjoyed Jewell’s characterization of Nalussa, Abra, Adriel and Jasper. Some secondary characters, such as Shallum, are also well written. On the other hand, the pacing, although steady, is too steady in places. Jewell missed a few opportunities to quicken the pace. As the group escapes through the chaos following Solomon’s death, Jewell just indicates that “the women were terrified.” A more apt description would have shown how the women reacted to the situation. Once Nalussa, Adriel, Abra and her newborn son are in Sheba, to which they fled after the king’s death, the scenes and dialogue that deal with court intrigue are excellent. The plot gains some quickness of pace as it moves towards the end, but then slows again as the story approaches its conclusion.
Overall, Solomon’s Concubine kept my interest. I may read other books written by Jewell.
by S. A. Jewell