I‘ve been trying for awhile to get my hands on the third and fourth volumes of Terri Fivash’s Dahveed series, about the life of King David. While the first two books of the series were traditionally published, the later books (there’s a fifth still to come, finishing the saga) are self-published and it’s taken me awhile to get hold of them in a format that works on my e-reader. But now that I have them and have read Book #3, I can say it’s definitely worth the wait.
The only other historical fiction to which I can compare Terri Fivash’s Dahveed books is Nicole Griffith’s Hild, which I read earlier this year. They are the only two historical novels I can think of set in times far more ancient than the medieval European worlds many of us historical-fiction lovers are used to, that genuinely manage to create the feeling of a world where people think very differently than modern people do. (Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent is another, but I read it so long ago that I can’t remember if it was as richly detailed as these two).
Many times, Dahveed’s world was so strange to me that the book might as well have been a fantasy novel (in fact, far more alien than many fantasy novels manage) although it’s soundly rooted in historical research. So many writers (myself included) struggle to really convey how different the ancient world was to our own, how differently people thought. But Fivash captures it. And yes, this very sense of alien-ness and the meticulous research that has led her to people the book with a huge cast of characters, sometimes makes the story daunting or hard to immerse oneself in, but it is always a rewarding journey.
If I have a quibble with this series, it’s this: now that Fivash is no longer being published by a Christian publisher, I wish the books would include a little more frank (not explicit, but frank) discussion of sexuality. It doesn’t need to be graphic in any way (and after all, it’s still mainly Christian readers who are buying the books, readers who generally don’t want vividly realized sex scenes). But in a novel that so clearly shows us how bonds of family, friendship and marriage were viewed differently in those times — a book that makes it abundantly clear how David’s love for Jonathan could be “passing the love of women” without necessarily being sexual in any way, because of the deep ties of loyalty and honour that bound them — in the context of that aspect of the story, it would be helpful to see where sex, and sexual attraction, fit into it. To give another example than just the David/Jonathan one, David takes Abigail as a second wife even though he’s already married to Ahinoam, and within the cultural context, all the characters accept that as a sensible and even necessary thing to do — but I’d like to have had some sense of where David’s attraction to Abigail (whose beauty is frequently mentioned) fits into the picture. Though people married for reasons quite unrelated to what we think of as love in those days, they did still have strong sexual feelings and act on those feelings (as David’s later adventures show). With any reference to sexuality so heavily veiled in this book, it feels like a story that’s otherwise fully grounded in day-to-day reality of the early Iron Age Middle East, has pulled back from gritty realism just a little, and I think that’s a small loss.
In spite of that one caveat, I found this a very enjoyable and thoroughly well-researched novel, and look forward to the rest of the series.