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04 April 2017

Shepherd, Potter, Spy, and the Star Namer {Crew Review}

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver}
I haven't read any historical fiction that centers on the Bible in a very long time, so when we were asked to review Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer from Peggy Consolver - Author, I was looking forward to it. And the book did not disappoint.

The author's story is fascinating: she'd been interested in writing about the Gibeonites for a while, but was having a hard time placing them in their historical and geographical setting when she had the opportunity to travel with the Associates for Biblical Research and work on a dig in the Holy Land. She tells her story on their website, and it, like so much else on that site, is pretty interesting.

"I had begun writing historical fiction about the Gibeonites of Joshua 9 and 10 from the point of view of a young shepherd boy and his family of potters. Struggling with describing the historical and geographical setting one day, I quipped to my husband, 'If I really write this story, maybe I should go there.'"
-Shepherd, Potter, Spy and the Star Namer

I knew the story of the Gibeonites -- but not their name -- so I had a quick refresher, which was easy, because the relevant chapters are right on the back of the book: the Gibeonites are the ones that trick the Israelites. They dress up in old, old clothing, and they take old food, and they tell Joshua and the elders that they're from far, far away, when in reality they're from right there, neighbors with Jericho. And they make an alliance, though they should not have been able to, had they not deceived the Israelites. (I've always been a little amazed it worked, and that Joshua didn't say, "Wow. You low-life lying scum. You can't do that!" and attack them anyway -a fraudulent contract isn't really a contract, I thought- but that's not how the story goes. Which makes me ponder modern ideas of honor.)

The story deals with the horrors of the worship of Molech, but does so in a very delicate way: my 10 year old did not pick up on what was going on, though to me, already knowing, it was pretty obvious. I suspect that the story could probably be read aloud to a group with younger kids in it without needing to explain that worship of Molech involved infanticide, though we already had a read-aloud going, so I didn't actually read it to my younger kids. I would be comfortable doing it in the future, though, when we had time for it. 

While I really liked the insights into the situation that the book offered (more on that in a minute), I didn't like the way that the story ended. On the one hand, it was a foregone conclusion: they make the alliance, and for their duplicity, they're condemned to slavery. But, although the characters had been three-dimensional and relatable throughout, in the last chapter or two they're suddenly content with slavery:  turns out there's a family curse that condemns them to be slaves, but in this case slavery is salvation because it turns out that the vague belief in a "star-namer" deity (certainly far preferable to Molech) is actually a tradition that more or less becomes worship of the Hebrew God, and within a few hours of arriving at the Israelite camp the main character, a thirteen year old young man, has more or less reconciled himself to his slavery. He shows insight and adaptivity that a tribal elder would struggle to display... I just can't buy it from a thirteen year old that's just been given as a hostage and is suddenly a slave, rather than the son of a respected craftsman, tribal leader, and freeman. I like the story - lots, really; I could see myself re-reading this book in a year or two. But the ending was much more tidy than real life really is. There's not a lot to go on in the Bible, as far as the reaction of the Gibeonites to their new status, and I think that figuring out how to do the ending might be the hardest part of doing this particular story, and I'm not sure that I could do it better. But it felt too pat. Too easy. The rest of the story had been complex and intriguing, but then the ending was tied up in a nice bow, perfect and tidy. Real life isn't tidy, and this is a (dramatization of a) real story.

Overall, though, I think that the book is well worth reading anyway. It was really interesting, watching the story unfold from the point of view of the condemned peoples. Challenging. The rumors, as the Israelites are still a ways out, the terror from the miraculous crossing of the Jordan and the stunning destruction of Jericho. Anger. Fear. Refugees. I'd never considered the refugee situation that it would have created as people fled. Food shortages. Shortages of everything. Extra work trying to defend against the unstoppable force of the Hebrews' god. Reading the book made me think about the Conquest in a whole new and challenging way. Watching the family the story follows try to cope with this impossible situation really made the story come alive. It made me think deeply about a passage of scripture that I'd previously just read, scratched my head at the different customs, and moved on. I will never look at this story quite the same way. This book makes the Gibeonites and other Canaanites into real people. It takes them from being a faceless mass of people who are easy to perceive as just a mob of Bad Guys, and transforms them into a group of father and mothers and cousins and neighbors -- and it does that for both the Gibeonites and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the Israelites. That's valuable.

I had Hero read the story, then asked him three questions:

1. Describe your favorite scene in the story.

My favorite scene is "When the Sun Stood Still", the last chapter. It was where Joshua and the Hebrews chased King Zedek's men, and chased them until they were all dead. And the reason is, at this point, the potters of Gibeon were servants to the Hebrews, and the Hebrews were defending their servants, and, it's not as bad as it sounds. And so, when the battle was going on, Zedek's men were blindsided, and Keshub got a new bronze sword. And then, Joshua looks at the sun, and just after he'd issued a command to kill every one of Zedek's men, I think it's because Zedek's men would continue to hunt and kill the Gibeonites and Hebrews, and then, after he'd issued the command, he went up to a nearby hill, lifted his arms, and told the sun to stay still.

2. Tell something that the main character, Keshub, learns in the story.

Probably the biggest thing that Keshub learned is that what the Gibeonites called the "Star Namer" is really the Hebrew God. And he could call him that, because Heavenly Father does know each of the stars by name.

3. Who do you think would like this book?

People who like historical fiction would probably like Shepherd, Potter, Spy and the Star Namer.

It took a long time for Hero to read this book, for reasons I never did figure out, so we didn't do tons with it, but there is a nice study guide to go with the book. However, he was quite interested in the weapons videos that are included in the study guide resources, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him and his best friend try to make a bow this summer or attempt to make a sling. His friend has already been researching how to do it from PVC, and they've been plotting. It's amazing the stuff they come up with!

To read more reviews on this book, and to see how other families used it in their homeschool, please click the link below:

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At Home where life happens said...

I, too, enjoyed the book. I felt she did a good job bringing to life a part of history that, while I knew, had never really thought tons on. It brought much of the Hebrew life to light for me, as well. Thanks for sharing your review.

Annette V said...

Good review. I enjoyed the book as well. I thought she did a great job showing the struggles of the time, the fear and the potential hope.

Peggy Consolver said...

Thanks, ladies, for your comments and review. I hope Baby Steps will give me a chance to redeem myself for the too pat ending when the sequel comes out! When? I'm not sure, but it sure is cooking in my brain and urging me to finish some other commitments so I can delve into what happens next. Have a blessed day!

Ritsumei said...

I'll have to keep an eye out for the sequel. It was a good book!


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