Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: On This Foundation (Restoration Chronicles #3) by Lynn Austin

On This Foundation (The Restoration Chronicles #3)
by Lynn Austin


It is twenty some years since the 13th of Adar occurred and Esther saved her people and the Jews fought back against their attackers. Nehemiah's parents were murdered in that attack, and he now serves as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia, meaning that he is a most trusted servant who tastes anything and everything the king will eat or drink. When Nehemiah learns that the walls of Jerusalem, the holy city of his people, lie in ruins with no one attempting to rebuild them, he garners permission from the king to travel roughly 1,000 miles to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls, fortifying the city against attacks by her enemies. This is the story we know, the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, facing opposition from local Gentile leaders, and guiding the people back to God.

The fictional side of On This Foundation is found in the 2 other sets of characters, Chana and her family and future husband and then Nava and her family and life as a bondservant. Chana is cleverly created out of a single verse in the book of Nehemiah, chapter 3 verse 12 that speaks of Shallum, an official over half of Jersualem, rebuilding his part of the wall with his daughters. Chana is one of Shallum's daughters in this story, a grieving young woman whose future husband was murdered by attackers creeping into the undefended Jerusalem. The wall means a great deal to her, as does working on it herself, doing something physical to right a very personal wrong. In the course of the story, she is courted by Malchijah, a powerful nobleman who is also listed in Scripture as having played a part in rebuilding the wall. Despite her doubts, Chana discovers that Malchijah is a good man, albeit weak in some areas, and she can strengthen and encourage him to make right choices according to the Law and God's will.

Nava, the young bondservant to Malchijah, fights bitterness and anger against the injustice that she must serve as bondservant to her master when he could forgive her family's debts and free her as Nehemiah asked of the wealthy Jews also according to Scripture. In love with a young farmer named Dan, Nava fears her master's son who is determined to catch her alone so he can take advantage of her. Bitterness eats her up inside and she must reconcile herself to God more to provide balm to her own wounded soul than for anyone else.

My Thoughts
I nearly rated this book 3 stars, but in good conscience I couldn't do it. A lot of effort goes into creating biblical fiction, and I liked almost all of the characters that Lynn Austin created. I think she took a little to much liberty with Nehemiah himself, heaping doubts and fears and emotions on him that I don't see in Scripture, but this is fiction and a little alteration is to be expected.
I started out disliking Chana, but ended up admiring her fortitude and how she matured from a stubborn, self-pitying woman to a strong woman of faith. Her marriage with Malchijah is entirely fictional, but I appreciated the reality of it being a second match for both of them, and even though the igniting passion we expect to see in romance is absent, they still grow to love each other. Theirs was a practical match, but just because it is a practical match doesn't mean there can't be love. I appreciated Ms. Austin's acknowledgement that love isn't always about feelings.
As for Nava, I pitied her from the beginning, but as her rage developed, I found myself frustrated with her for the same weaknesses that I myself can exhibit when things don't go my way. God uses our circumstances to grow us, no matter what they might be, and bitterness only serves to destroy us if we let it take root. Thankfully, Nava realizes that she must have faith and return to trusting in God, praying for her enemies and for peace for herself. And God rewards her faithfulness.
However, it's incredible to me how the same issue I had with the 1st book in the series, Keepers of the Covenant is still prevalent in the final book in the series. I appreciate Ms. Austin's dedication to scriptural references. I actually re-read the book of Nehemiah before writing this review, and she's pretty much spot on with historic details and names and events and all that stuff that is so easy to get wrong. But the contemporary dialogue she uses is still off-putting. This is historic fiction, and not just historic fiction but biblical fiction. I don't think they would have used words like "boyfriend." It just doesn't fit, and I'm disappointed in the novel's lack of historic dialogue.
In that same vein, the writing style wavers between being really strong and very weak. Moments of conflict fizzle out because the writing just isn't on par with the events happening. Conversations lack passion and authenticity, as if no one had ever bothered to read them aloud to see if they even sounded real. I found myself getting distracted as I read and counting down the pages in the hopes I was nearing the end just so I could finish it. I always hate it when that happens.

So, what could have been a 5 star book really ends up being somewhere between 3 and 4 stars for me. For fans of biblical fiction, the series is most likely worth a read. It has some really good points and lessons learned. However, I think biblical fiction is not necessarily for me, and so this may be the last one I read for a good long while, just out of fairness to the authors.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

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