In Nygaard's novel—which is a retelling of the three wise men's journey to Bethlehem—star readers journey to solve a mystery related to an ancient prophesy and the position of the stars. With tension that begins within the first few pages, lovely prose that matches the time period, and helpful footnotes, this novel features well developed characters, unique descriptions, and strong dialogue. Additionally, the book is well plotted and features an epic historical setting. Fans of historical fiction will find a lot to like here.
Ancient star readers are amazed by a conjunction of stars, and connect the mysterious event with a long-ago prophecy by an exalted member of their order. Their quest to explore this mystery becomes a dangerous marathon into a slave empire. Deceit surrounds them. A frightening entity haunts them.
The journey carries the star readers through storms, battles, crossroads and palaces before finally leading them to a one-room mud hut in an insignificant village. Darker questions then confront them. Meres—a young man and aristocrat, and Jenu—a female servant-healer are swept up in this quest. The quest binds them together and changes their destiny. What they witness will change the world.
excerpt from chapter 16 “Yoseph & Mary”
… Arsakes jumped off his horse a hundred strides short of the mud-brick house, absent-mindedly dropping the reins of his Akhel-Tek as he walked slowly forward. Phraatakes hurriedly retrieved the reins, summoned a horse-archer to whom he entrusted Arsakes’ horse plus his own, and strode after Arsakes. Forgetting Jenu who was behind him, Meres slid off his mount, gave the reins to a horse-archer, and ran after Phraatakes and Arsakes who were approaching the home. Looking about defensively, Nokin slowed the rest of the company who remained on their horses, with Jenu and one horse-archer well behind the rest of the company.
Meres caught up in time to hear Arsakes’ greeting, “Shalom!” in the Chaldean’s most dignified voice accompanied by a bow. The bearded young man said nothing; instead, he looked back over his right shoulder at the young woman holding the toddler in the doorway.
Just behind Arsakes, Phraatakes repeated the local greeting without a bow. Still, uneasy silence. Meres abruptly stopped at Arsakes’ shoulder and added his own, “Shalom.”
“Shalom,” the bearded young man responded. The young woman in the doorway adjusted her head-covering to hide even more of the little of her face that was visible.
Arsakes moved a couple of careful steps forward and spoke anxiously in Aramaic to the bearded young man. “We are Chaldeans, wise men out of the east to whom the stars have announced the birth of a king of the Jews. We have traveled far. His star led us to this village. Nearby sheep-herders advised we seek Yoseph the builder.”
“I’m Yoseph,” the bearded young man acknowledged.
Nervous silence. Meres heard the horses stop about ten paces behind him. They snorted, swished at flies, twitched, and softly stomped heavy hooves. Arsakes, fingers twitching, avoided looking toward the young woman whom Meres was studying. She seemed conflicted between withdrawing back into the house and stepping forward to greet these strangers.
Eventually, the young man broke the anxious silence, “May I be of service, in some way?”
“We pray,” Arsakes responded gently, “that in some way we might be of service to you. A question, if I may?” Yoseph put down the tool he had been holding and took a couple of cautious steps so as to get between the strangers and the young woman and child in the doorway. “Your child?”
Meres was surprised this simple, obvious, easy question caused Yoseph consternation. Could he be so dumb? It took some thought before Yoseph answered awkwardly, “Our son, my wife and me.”
“He’s first-born...only child,” stammered Yoseph.
“Forgive, please, this intrusion...our intrusion,” Arsakes strained for soothing words. “Our quest has been our one and only focus; a pre-occupation which has, perhaps, damaged our manners.”
From their right a little, brittle man with a grey beard came hurrying up in a frail sort of way, calling out. “Guests, Yoseph! Shalom, to your distinguished guests!”
Nokin, who had seen the greybeard coming, jumped off his horse to position himself between Phraatakes and the newcomer. Yoseph looked back towards the old man only to say, “Rabbi.”
“Welcome to our Bethlehem, and shalom!” exclaimed the brittle man as he maneuvered through the workshop to get alongside Yoseph.
“Shalom,” replied Arsakes, and then added, “Rabbi?”
“Teacher, it means ‘teacher’ and one who studies, which all good teachers always do, of course. Pardon my redundancy. If I may, I’m the leader of our synagogue—the gathering place where Moses is read, Psalms are sung and the prophets discussed and taught. Yoseph and Mary—they’re recent additions to our village; precious people, adding value to our community, too, of course. And you are, sirs?”
“Chaldeans, wise men who have traveled from the east in search of a newborn king of the Jews.”
Swaying a little on his old legs the rabbi mumbled, “Oh my, oh my, my...”