Written by Judith Pransky
Price: £9.99 / $12.95
- Commended as a 2022 Sydney Taylor Award Notable Book
- A compelling, beautifully written and thoroughly researched historical novel for 11-15 year olds
- An inventive reinterpretation of the story of Queen Esther
- A female-led story, which explores issues of identity, community, freedom, friendship and the power of literacy
- Vividly imagined, it offers a rare glimpse into the Jewish diaspora in Ancient Persia and the Persian Empire
Darya does not remember how she came to be a slave or who she was before she was bought by an army captain for his motherless daughter in the ancient Persian city of Susa.
Protected and nurtured by the housekeeper and her daughter, Darya has as good a life as a slave can have, even acquiring the rare skill of reading and writing, which she learns alongside her young mistress. When the captain dies and the household is broken up, this skill proves to be her lifeline. She becomes the seventh handmaiden to the mysterious Esther, who is being housed at the Royal Palace while in contention to be King Xerxes’ new Queen.
However, life in Ancient Persia is precarious for women and outsiders, wherever they are in the hierarchy. When the King appoints a new Prime Minister called Haman, Darya and Esther are drawn into his murderous conflict with the Judean community and Mordechai, their leader, who lives just outside the palace gates.
In a world of discord and uprising, Darya seeks to fix the world around her and protect her friends, while also trying to unravel the mysteries surrounding who she is and how she became a slave. As she grows from childhood to womanhood she grapples with her own identity, her aspirations and desires and begins to understand the true meaning of both slavery and freedom.
Judith Pransky is a writer, editor and teacher who taught English and History in middle school classrooms for 20 years. She has edited guides to Philadelphia and published two books for children, Mister Lister and Mister Lister Strikes Again.
Read an interview with Judith Pransky here
This unusual, finely-crafted book meets the criteria for consideration for a Sydney Taylor Award. Its mix of historical fiction, biblical retelling, and adventure make it a rare find in the Jewish middle grade genre. It will enrich the story of Purim for those who know it, and serve as an intriguing introduction for those who don’t.’ SydneyTaylorSchmooze.com
The Book of Esther in the Bible tells that Queen Esther, living in the women’s quarters of the Persian king, had seven handmaidens to serve her. Based on this brief but important part of the biblical text, as well as on various rabbinic and historical sources, Judith Pransky has created a full character in The Seventh Handmaiden. In the novel, Darya, the seventh handmaiden of the title, is the center of a complex and compelling story about hidden identity, Jewish survival, and female solidarity. There have been many literary retellings and new interpretations of Esther’s story, but Pransky’s version for young adults adds new dimensions to this rich narrative source. Readers will be engrossed in Darya’s development from a powerless, enslaved child to a strong and introspective young woman, and they will meet a Queen Esther not previously depicted in fiction… This highly recommended story includes author’s notes that provide historical context and explain which characters are wholly fictional. – Emily Schneider, Jewish Book Council
‘This is a great addition to the Purim bookshelf, and an excellent book for middle readers who enjoy historical fiction’. – Kathy Bloomfield, Association of Jewish Libraries President, Seal Beach, CA, USA