Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare

Yet another case of covers deceiving me.  My library's copy was one of those Permabound sorts of covers, with no dust jacket or summary.  So I assumed this was yet another dramatic Greek mythology volume.  Seriously, look at that cover over there to the left.  Those of you unfamiliar with this story, what do you think is happening here?

In any case, I was wrong.  You probably were, too.

Daniel lives in the mountains near Galilee with a rough band of men.  Drawn there for various reasons, they all follow Rosh, a tactful leader who is slowly amassing an army he hopes to use to overthrow the Roman rule of Israel.  In the meantime, the men live as best they can.  This usually involves helping themselves to sheep grazing nearby (the shepherds would no doubt be grateful of the opportunity to offer them for the cause, right?) and money from travelers.  Daniel found himself there after fleeing a cruel and oppressive blacksmith he had been apprenticed to.  He had nowhere else to go- his father had been executed by Romans in his childhood and his mother had died of grief soon afterward.  His grandmother, unable to feed him, had sent him along to the blacksmith.  She kept his sister, Leah, so traumatized by her parents' death that she is largely unable to function and never leaves the house.

One day on the mountain, Daniel runs into a prior acquaintance, Joel, and his sister, Malthace.  Although initially wary of each other (and nervously aware of the vast differences in their social standing, as Joel is the son of a rabbi and well-educated), they strike up a cordial conversation and begin to refamiliarize themselves.  When Daniel's old master dies, leaving no one to claim the debt of his remaining apprenticeship, Joel sends another former apprentice, Simon ('the Zealot") to tell him and encourage him to visit his family for the first time since leaving years ago.

Upon visiting his old home, Daniel immediately regrets it.  His grandmother's house is impoverished, with little food and most possessions long since sold.  Leah scarcely recognizes him and skittishly avoids him whenever possible.  He feels confined.  The next morning, the Sabbath, Simon returns to offer Daniel the opportunity to join him in listening to the man who is schedule to speak in the synagogue that day.  This man, Jesus, also preaches the coming of the kingdom of God, but stops disappointingly short of advocating revolution.

Daniel returns to the mountain and Rosh's band for a period of time, but when his grandmother dies, he is forced to return to the village to care for his sister.  Because Simon has chosen to follow Jesus in the long-term, he offers his blacksmith shop, tools, and adjoining home to Daniel so he can support himself and meet the smithing needs of his village as well.  He remains friends with Joel, and over time Malthace befriends Leah and she slowly becomes less timid (but still will not leave the house or meet strangers).  But even though he is forced to live in the village, Daniel maintains his loyalty to Rosh.  He builds his own small band of rebels who meet in secret, and carry out small acts of sabotage against the Romans and those who collaborate with them. 

But even he is striking small blows for Israel, Jesus is continuing to grow in popularity.  He is still preaching the kingdom of God.  They say he heals the sick, and raises the dead to life.  There is certainly something significant happening before his very eyes, but if this Jesus fancies himself the Messiah, he's certainly going about it the wrong way.  Even as Daniel is uncertain about what Jesus is up to, his faith in Rosh is also eroding over time.  He needs to figure out what his role will be in God's kingdom, and how he can be of most use.

Certainly a unique take on the time and people just going about their business in the time of Jesus, and how they may have been impacted.  A surprisingly good novel!

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