The Book of Esther, is the newest book from Emily Barton. It is an interesting riff on the biblical/Torah story of Queen Esther, but with some very significant and interesting changes.
Esther is the daughter of Kazhar's chief policy advisor. After sneaking away one morning with her brother/slave Itakh, Esther sees the reconnaissance planes of the Germanii flying overhead. Stories of the destruction throughout Europa are flooding into the country along with the refugees, and Esther knows that she needs to do something.
Sneaking away the next morning with Itakh, stealing money, food, and a mechanical horse, Esther sets off to find the Kabbalists, the only people Esther thinks can help her on her desire to save Kazhar. The ones who can change her into a boy, so that she may lead troops into battle. After an interesting trip through Uyghar, and a fortuitous meeting with some of the Uyghars, Esther and Itakh find the Kabbalists.
The Kabbalist village is tended to by Golemim, creatures that are not men, yet behave like men. Creatures who have been given the breath of life, but not a soul. After some arguement, the Kabbalists agree that Esther is indeed the person to lead Kazhar into battle, and make Golemim to serve with her.
Esther returns to Atil, her home city, just in time. The Germanii are advancing on the city, and she and the Golemim are needed on the front lines to repel the advancing forces.
The Book of Esther is an alt-history, diesel-punk novel. It's set in what should be the modern day Middle East, with traditional Turkish/Jewish names for places. There is also a lot of Jewish traditions and phrases in the book, but no glossary to define what any of those are. Which is probably needed unless you have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Jewish tradition and culture. An interesting book, but rather a slog to get through. There is just so much description, so much philosophical discussion, so much backstory, so much character development, that the book was a little tough to push through at times. It was good, well written, and a very well developed world, so it was worth sticking with. But you will want to have some Jewish reference books handy for translations and explanations.
The Book of Esther
Publisher: Tim Duggan Books (June 14, 2016)