Judy Petsonk’s “Queen of the Jews” transports readers to a time long ago when Salome Alexandra, queen of Judea, reigned.
After her first husband is murdered, Queen Salome marries the ruthless Alexander Janneus in order to remain queen. However, her decision to do so ends in thousands of lives being lost, as Janneus ridicules tradition and runs off to war. Janneus’ disregard for tradition costs him the love of his people, but still Salome protects him, hoping against all hope that the man she has seen glimpses of will rule over the tyrant that her people see. Caught in a web of tyranny, political factions and personal demons, Salome fights to keep her fragile nation together.
While the story seemed to lack some of the drama that I initially expected, the dynamic character relationships, the action and Salome’s inner thoughts still pulled me into this ancient world. Despite her various flaws, I found myself invested in the queen’s triumph. Although I could doubt her ability to be a good mother as well as her ability to make solid judgments when her mind was clouded with her love for her husband, I could never fathom the possibility that she didn’t love her people. In the end, her love of her people forced her to make some of the hardest decisions a woman could ever make.
Queen Salome: ruler, wife, mother, friend; Salomes struggles to fulfill all of these roles. Her failure at some made her story all the more poignant because in her flaws, it is clear that while she is a ruler, she is also human. Using historical facts mixed with imagination, Petsonk gives this long-ago queen a voice that transcends time, gender and location.