The story of Deborah is one of those Biblical tales that, at least if you went to my church, you didn’t hear much of. (I even had to do a quick skim through her Wikipedia page to refresh my memory of what she did.) Fortunately, intimate knowledge of Biblical history is unnecessary to enjoy and follow Deborah Rising, for the book focuses on her childhood, about which our knowledge is sadly lacking. This does, however, give the author free rein within reason, and Azrieli does a masterful job at building up a realistic tale that feels as though it could be true to history.
The book opens at the stoning of Deborah’s sister Tamar, who has been accused by her husband of infidelity as she did not bleed on her wedding night. Deborah knows that her sister would have gone to her marriage bed a virgin, but as a young woman, her word has little power against that of Seesya, Tamar’s husband and the son of Judge Zifron. Before dying, Tamar begs that Deborah be spared marrying Seesya, but Seesya places his betrothal ring on Deborah’s finger, claiming her as his bride once she begins to menstruate. Terrified of being married to such a man, Deborah wonders whether it might be possible to run away and find a foreigner who is reputed to have turned the women of one land into men, that he might work the same transformation on her.
My one complaint about the book is that it ended far too quickly. I was enchanted by the vivid portrayal of Deborah’s home and her travels, and each one of the characters felt fully three-dimensional, especially Deborah herself (which is all too rarely accomplished with female protagonists, even those the author wishes to portray as strong female characters). Deborah is strong, though, and her story of a girl trying to grow into a man is a compelling one. Azrieli, to his credit, ended the book exactly where it needed to be ended; there are no needless cliffhangers here. I will be eagerly awaiting the next book about Deborah.