Updated: Aug 21
It is 70 C.E., and the Roman commander, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, and his legions have arrived at the walls of ancient Jerusalem. Three Jewish factions opposing them are each led by a charismatic leader more interested in being recognized as the Messiah than protecting their people from the consequences of standing up to Roman power. The Rebel's Niece is the story of Sarah, whose uncle, Yochanan, is one of the messianic leaders, and she cannot help but wonder whether God actually commanded Yochanan to free the Jewish people from the Romans, as he claims. Orphaned as a child, Sarah was saved by her uncle when marauders invaded their village and killed her parents. Now that she is a wife and mother with two daughters, she wants her children to grow up without the horrors she experienced as a young girl. But is it possible, given the turbulent times she lives in? With a Roman legion chasing them from their village in Galilee, Sarah's fellow townsfolk, led by her uncle, escape to Jerusalem, where her uncle intends to become the leader of the rebel forces and free Jerusalem and Israel from Roman occupation. Once there, Yochanan wends his way into a position of leadership based on claims that God commanded him to expel the Romans from Israel, but Sarah begins to doubt his honesty as he leads his followers from disaster to disaster. Will Sarah challenge the veracity of her uncle? Will it be in time?
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SHIMON AVISH writes about significant events in ancient Jewish history. His work draws on his adventures in soldiering, farming, product design, cabinet making, political science, international business consulting, and living in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. He completed his doctoral degree in political science at Columbia University in the City of New York and was a Fulbright-Hays Fellow.
The Rebel’s Niece tells the story of Sarah who was taken in by her uncle after being orphaned as a child. Sarah has grown up and is a mother to her own two children. She yearns for a better life for them but that seems like an impossible dream as Romans led by Titus Flavius Vespasianus try to invade Jerusalem. Sarah’s uncle, Yochanan, is willing to fight the Romans as he believes he has been chosen By God to free the Jewish people. Sarah isn't sure of Yochanan's calling. Will Yochanan be able to stop the Romans from taking over the city? Will be able to free the Jewish people? Can Sarah find the peace she has longed for for her children? Readers will find themselves transported back in time and immersed in the Holy Land like never before. With well-developed and endearing characters and a plot line that will keep readers engaged, it is nearly impossible to put The Rebel’s Niece down.
“I slept restlessly that night, tossing and turning. I dreamed of the burning house and reaching through the flames to rescue Rivkah. This time, when I pulled her through the curtain of fire, she appeared with a ruined face, looking much like a cracked and folded mask. I screamed myself awake, and in the darkness, it took me a while to get my bearings.”
The author does a great job writing in a way that is easy to understand and follow. He is able to make the events realistic and uses imagery to tell the story in a way that readers easily become engaged with the tale. Avish clearly understands his intended audiences and how to write in a way that will appeal to those readers.
“It reminded me that deep winter would soon be upon Jerusalem, and I prayed we would quickly establish ourselves in more permanent living quarters. Caressing the stone near my blanket some more before getting up, I thought about the hundreds of years of history it had already witnessed, going back to our forefathers. This is Jerusalem's essence—the realization that so much history had already happened here.”
The author provided maps at the beginning of the book of Jerusalem in 67 CE, the temple complex, and the temple. It is incredibly helpful for readers to be able to picture the layouts and places that the author references in the book especially if they are not familiar with those locations or history. In addition to the maps, the author also includes a bibliography, a character list, a glossary, and book club discussion questions at the back of the book. This is a fantastic touch that allows readers to engage with the story even more.
“While I'd saved over two thousand lives from Gush Chalav, I'd also sent thousands of refugees from my hometown to their deaths. Would they still be alive had I surrendered the town to Titus Flavius? Likewise, the Romans might not have killed or enslaved us if we had surrendered peacefully, as they did in Sepphoris and Tiberias. Was I just a bloodthirsty mercenary as Sarah accused me of being?”
The author mentions that he grew up in Jerusalem and that is where his love for the history of the city began. It is clear by the way he writes his novel that he has a strong passion for the city and the history of the Jewish people. The Rebel’s Niece is part of a larger series of books by Avish that focus on significant events in Jewish history. This is a rare find for historical fiction and readers will appreciate finding topics that are not usually focused on by historical fiction writers.
“I was distraught. Fourteen men had burned to death. Twelve wives were now husbandless, and twenty-one children were fatherless. All for a few more months of grain to sustain us in this endless war. Was it worth it? I assumed since it would help delay the onset of starvation, I should be grateful for the grain, but the price was very high.”
Avish takes his passion for Jewish history and researches the events well before writing it into a novel. The events he writes about are not popular events to study for most people with an interest in mainstream history. It is obvious that he put large amounts of time into researching and learning about Jewish history and the history of Jerusalem. His passion for the subject is shown through his research. He combines his research with beautiful writing and imagery to create a vivid and realistic picture of life during this time period.
“My girls and I no longer slept through the night as the steady thumping of the battering rams was louder now, and from the lines of worries on the faces of the other women and children, it seemed they shared our intense fears. When exhaustion took me, and I could sleep for a short while, nightmares would awaken me in a cold sweat and shaking limbs.”
The intended audience for The Rebel’s Niece is those who enjoy historical fiction or those with an interest in Jewish history. Many readers with an interest in history but may not be familiar with this time period, location, or Jewish history will find The Rebel’s Niece enthralling. The book has enough action to keep the attention of those who are not familiar with this history making it a good choice for those wanting to try out historical fiction.
“I had to give him credit or accept him as a madman. He had lost everything, but still, he wouldn't accept his fate. Perhaps he was relying on divine intervention?”
Excellent writing, superior research, a unique historical setting, and an interesting story set in a time period that is unique for the historical fiction genre earn The Rebel’s Niece a five out of five rating. Historical fiction fans will enjoy the rich history and realistic look at Jewish history in this well-written novel.
“The Rebel's Niece” by Shimon Avish receives five stars and the “highly recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company
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