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Nov 2, 2009

Book Review: Delilah by India Edghill, Biblical Fiction

Delilah:A Novel by India Edghill, author of Queenmaker
St. Martin's Press, 11/24/2009
ISBN: 978-0-312-33891-6
Hardcover, 368 pages
Review copy from author
The Burton Review Rating:4 Stars at The Burton Review


"Given to the temple of Atargatis as a child, Delilah is raised to be a priestess to the Five Cities that rule Canaan. With her beloved friend Aylah, Delilah grows up under the watchful eyes of high priestess Derceto, who sees the devout young priestesses as valuable playing pieces in her political schemes.
In the hills of Canaan, the Israelites chafe under the rule of the Five Cities, and choose Samson to lead them to victory. A reluctant warrior, Samson is a man of great heart who prefers peace to war. But fearing a rebellion, those who rule the Five Cities will do anything to capture Samson. When Samson catches a glimpse of Delilah, he is ready to risk his freedom to marry her, and Derceto seizes the chance to have Samson at her mercy. The Temple's intrigues against Samson force Aylah and Delilah apart, lead Delilah to question her own heart, and change her future forever.
A glorious and inventive retelling of an ancient story, Delilah is a soaring tale of political turmoil, searing betrayal, passionate friendship, and forbidden love

I am not a connoisseur of biblical fiction. The story is fashioned in such a way to exhibit a snapshot of the current times within the plot, and the first 1o pages were tough to get through for some reason, but as I continued on and reached an understanding of the flow, it soon became a richly rewarding experience.

Some may recognize the legendary story of Samson and Delilah that is used as a theme here. The main gist is that Delilah bewitches Samson with her famed beauty and betrays him by cutting his long hair, stripping him of his heroic powers. The novel doesn't jump right into the heart of that story, instead it guides you in slowly as you are introduced to each character one at a time. There are multiple narratives here, with the first person narrative being told by Delilah as her story began when she was ten. Delilah remained my favorite 'part' throughout the book, as the others were told in third person but with the views of several of the other characters. This typically jars me and turns me off. After I delved deeper into the story of Samson, and returned to the Delilah in first person narrative, it helped me appreciate the technique more. Halfway through the book, Delilah becomes more retrospective and leaves sentences heavy with foreshadowing.

Delilah is portrayed as the girl who simply wants to dance as a form of worship, and that is an honor she has accomplished along with her best friend, or heart-sister, Alyah. The two girls dancing together are a source of beauty and awe, as Delilah's features exhibit the night sky, and Alyah exudes the Sun with the blond hair and lighter coloring. They are treated as a precious commodity within their world of Temples and the Five Cities, and are among the best of the dancers. Alyah is just as much a part of this author's story as Delilah or Samson are; as they each share a love for the other in an amazing triangle that holds them together like a knot to the bitter end.

There is a bit of social structure that needs to be learned here, with the promotion of New Moon to Rising Moon to Full Moons; and the High Priestess ruling for the City's goddess within a Temple, who is at odds with the Prince of Ascalon.. at first a bit overwhelming for me but I eased into the story and let it become familiar to me in its own time. Along with the social structure there is also the political structure that is a large part of the story; as the struggle for power and strength in itself is a major underlying theme with Hebrews vs. Philistines, Temple vs. City, man vs. woman.

And then we finally meet the mighty Samson. Samson's beginnings are dubious and of questionable heritage but he quickly befriends Orev the Harper, and they travel together while swiftly becoming famous. Samson decides to protect a specific road for travelers, aptly names the Lion's Path. As he learns this is not the best choice for him, we follow them along travels, and shake our head at the warnings that Samson does not heed. He goes to the famed City of Ascalon. We reach our climax as we wonder what happens to Samson as he enters this city of the Philistines who see Samson as a criminal due to Hebrew's not sanctioned by Samson committing crime in Samson's name. The climatic chapter begins with quote from the age-old story that is told by the harper Orev:

"Then there came the day that mighty Samson laid his eyes upon Delilah. Delilah the Dark, Delilah of the night-black hair. Delilah, who desired Samson's heart, and Samson's soul, and would stop at nothing to claim them as her prizes. She was beautiful as night and cunning as a fennec, and she filled his eyes until he could see no other. He vowed he must have her for his own, or die of love...."

The synopsis above may seem ambiguous at first, but once you begin to learn the story that is woven here it, the plot is so much clearer. And there are so many things that occur that I would recount but I am not going to spoil anything for anyone. So I am going to cut it short and explain that there are events that occurred in India Edghill's work that pulled at my heartstrings, and the last half of the book trapped me within its words. I was awed at the story being told, yet this is not the traditional story of how Delilah beat Samson or twisted his love for her own greed. This is the story that begs to be heard, and a fantastically imagined story that makes it so much more worthwhile. Not a simple story of love, this is twisted with faith, love, betrayal, and honor that gives justice to each of Samson's and Delilah's memories. The mystery of the love and the legend that history has chained Samson with comes alive with this compelling re-imagining of both Samson, and Delilah. I recommend this for the author's fans of her previous works, and for those who want to feel what was at the heart of the legend. The imagery and characterizations alone were enough to make it worthwhile, but the story being told in this way is a delightful adventure.

Read an excerpt taken from the beginning of the novel
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