The Old Testament is full of great stories that you don't necessarily need to be religious to enjoy. Deborah, whose story is found in the book of Judges, was the only woman in the Bible to serve as prophetess and judge. The Triumph of Deborah fleshes out the story told in Judges 4 and 5 – that of the war between Canaan and Israel and how 40 years of peace was achieved in the land - and “fleshes” is really the right word here because there is a lot of bare flesh in this fictional account.
You see, although the narrative is ostensibly about efforts to bring about lasting peace, the main thrust of the story is actually a love quadrangle between Deborah, her army leader (the very lusty Barak) and two Canaanite princesses he takes into his household, the icy yet beautiful Asherah and the humble (and half Israelite) Nogah. Barak’s steamy encounters with all three are described in lavish detail.
Despite all their bed hopping, the characters do find time to participate in other activities. Deborah plans war strategies, settles disputes and has visions. Nogah learns the art of scroll writing. Asherah plots and schemes. Barak wages war and oversees work in his fields. The pace is good, the plot entertains and historical detail enriches understanding of Israelite and Canaanite culture.
The language is very… ornate. I even had to laugh out loud at some of the phrasing in the early chapters (which I can’t repeat here since I sent the book home with my stepmother to read). But once you get used to it, it actually does work for this story and time period.
What I liked most about this novel was the characterization of the female characters. Deborah, Nogah and Asherah were all strong women in very different ways despite their apparent weakness for Barak. Jael, she of murdering the sleeping enemy leader with a tent pole fame, even shows up to steal a couple of scenes (would you believe she has a thing for Barak too?).
The Triumph of Deborah is now available in paperback.