Game of Queens, India Edghill

Note: I received a review copy of Game of Queens from the publisher for review consideration. This has no bearing upon my super-intense vengeful emotions about Haman and their contribution to my enjoyment of the book; about which, see further remarks below.

In my 2014 book preview, my expressed wish for Game of Queens, a retelling of the story of Esther, was that it not use the word sex as a euphemism for genitalia. And it did not. It also turned out to feature Daniel, of lions-not-eating-him fame, being gay without his close friends fretting too much about it, and it managed the neat trick of vilifying not Esther nor Vashti nor Ahasuerus. Which, if you remember the Book of Esther in any detail, you will notice is really quite some trick.

Haman is vilified, as is right and just. When I was a wee tot, I had this amazing book called Behold Your Queen which was also a retelling of the Esther story (it did vilify poor old Vashti), and so the moment where Haman gets hanged upon his own gallows was one of the formative Revenge moments of my childhood.

Fun fact: Thinking about revenge activates the reward centers in your brain!

Although Game of Queens is subtitled A Novel of Vashti and Esther, it’s really Vashti’s book. In part this is because Esther’s story is already so familiar, and by the nature of her story, she’s a less dynamic character. Vashti’s the one who gets to change and grow, to realize that she can’t be Marie Antoinette all the time, and to learn to become a player in the politics of her country, instead of a pawn. She’s a fun character, and it’s surprisingly rare to have a book in which a ditzy girl gets to get to make shit happen.

Greatest book ever, Pulitzer Prize material? Okay, probably not. But I cherish the story of Esther, and what Edghill has produced here is a monumentally satisfying version of that story. Not only do we get a Vashti who finds a way to control her own destiny even after she’s set aside as Queen of All Persia, but there’s this whole subsidiary plot about getting REVENGE on Haman even before Haman comes up with the idea of killing all the Jews.

Final note: Apparently Martin Luther was ruhlly ruhlly not into the Book of Esther. It was probably too fun for him. He probably wanted to put the Book of Job in there twice, just to make everyone miserable. Cranky old jerk. (I’m glad the Reformation happened. Super important, historically. Major step forward for Europe. I’m just not such a fan of Martin Luther as a person.)

  • MumsyNK

    I am IN!!!! So ready to read this! On a side note, did you ever read Norah Lofts’ version, entitled Esther? Because dang, she had a vivid Vashti, even if she only got one chapter. Also, do you think thinking about revenge might be more serotnish that actually taking revenge? Somebody needs to do that study.

    • What! No! Was it good as a whole? Or was only the Vashti chapter good?

      • MumsyNK

        Surprisingly good, actually. Sort of a Belle-ish Esther, much tougher than Malvern’s . l am actually a bit surprised you never read it – it was on my shelves for years. Still is.

        • MumsyNK

          I mean, her Vashti was not the woman you would want for your bestie. But even tho she was mean, she was her own woman – and really, what kind of loyalty did women back then owe to a husband they never chose or wanted?

  • I didn’t know that about Luther and the Book of Job! What a riot! (in a sad, perverted sort of way)

    • No no no, I was slandering Luther a little bit there. That was simple trash talk. As far as I know he had no aspirations for extra Book of Job adding. :p

  • Alice

    Oooooooooh did not know about this book. When I re-read Esther recently I was like “OMG I’LL BET FEMINISTS HAVE A FIELD DAY WITH VASHTI,” and I’m preeetty psyched to get to that section of The Woman’s Bible. Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s gonna lose her shit at Ahasuerus.

    • Bahahaha oo you should maybe skip ahead to that section of the Woman’s Bible. For my entertainment.

  • Chrisbookarama

    I listened to you talk about the book from your childhood on the podcast and thought it sounded like my kind of story. Revenge! This sounds great.

    • Hahaha, I know, it was a total coincidence that I ended up raving about Esther twice in the span of a week. It’s such a good story tho!

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Ooh, I’ve not read a good revenge story in a long time, maybe I should look for this one! Your remarks about Luther cracked me up and I can say that since I was raised in a family of good German Lutherans who I delight in disappointing with my complete lack of belief. They are all sure I am going to Hell and praying I have a deathbed conversion 😉

    • Ahahaha I promise I don’t dislike Lutherans! It’s only Martin Luther himself that I’m not SO wild about. In some areas! In other areas I support his endeavors.

  • india

    I still contend that BEHOLD YOUR QUEEN! is the best Esther novel ever written. It’s back in print at long, long last, so go get a copy NOW!! And thanks for the review; I’m beyond thrilled by it. (You have no idea how much work it is to turn Ahasuerus into something anyone would want.) Anyone who wants to know the model for Queen Vashti can take a look at the bottom of the page for GoQ on my website, where you will see two photos of Vashti, The Best Cat In The World (1972-1991), who lent her coloring and character to me when I needed it for another Persian queen.

    • Oh God, it must be SO hard to make Ahasuerus not be the Literal Worst, if you’re writing about both Vashti and Esther, and I thought you did an excellent job of it.

      Have you read the Norah Lofts Esther book? My mum reports that it exists, and she says that version of Vashti is very vivid. Makes a nice contrast to the one in Behold Your Queen, as Gladys Malvern utterly dismisses her, poor thing. Meanwhile your kitty Vashti is absolutely gorgeous. I am not surprised she was the best cat in the world; she looks it.

      • india

        Yes, I’ve read the Norah Lofts book — I think I’ve read every Esther novel ever published, including one from about 1900 that took something like two pages of turgid prose to announce that it was early morning. Seriously.
        I’ve just finished Angela Hunt’s Esther novel, one of her “Dangerous Beauty” series, and am eagerly awaiting her Bathsheba and her Delilah.
        Thanks for the kind words about Ahasuerus; figuring out how to make him a nice character was tough. You’ll notice I had to start when he was born to do it!

  • Interesting! Shame it wasn’t epic, but it sounds like a good read nonetheless.

  • Quickdrawkiddo

    Things that were too fun for Martin Luther: getting a root canal, going to the DMV, doing his taxes. Just saying. This book sounds delightful! I am super looking forward to it.

  • REVENGE!

    Confession: my exposure to Bible stories has been pretty durned patchy, so I don’t actually know the story of Esther. I do know Judith and Holofernes, though, and I can talk about the Annunciation for frickin’ hours, and I know all sorts of Random Biblical Facts because they were popular artistic subjects and it’s kind of impossible to study art history without learning all about them.

    Also, whenever anyone mentions Martin Luther I initially think they’re talking about Martin Luther King Jr and I have to perform a mental adjustment from “Civil Rights leader” to “Reformation guy.”

  • Care

    My grandmother’s name was Esther. (my husband also had a gma named Esther) And yes, my pup is named Esther but she was already named when we found her so she is NOT named for my gma, but I love that she shares the name because I think it is beautiful. I’m not too familiar with the Esther story so I am now most interested in learning more because your review is good.
    Am not surprised about your not liking ol’ Marty Luther much as a person. Just sayin’. I am another one of those German Lutherans by upbringing tho not so much on any ‘current’ identification – how’s that for so many of us (two?!) commenting. What are the odds?

  • Alley

    Haha, so the first time I read Martin Luther as Martin Luther King and I was quite confused. I do not know nearly enough about religion. My Bible knowledge is primarily from a children’s Bible (one of the ones with a bunch of big-eyed cartoon characters) so yeah