(CCLaP is dedicated to reviewing as many contemporary books as possible, including self-published volumes; click here to learn how to submit your own book for possible review, although be warned that it needs to have been published within the last 12 months to be considered. For the complete list of all books reviewed here, as well as the next books scheduled to be read, click here.)
Queen of the Jews
By N.L. Herzenberg
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer
Well, you can't say Herzenberg has no ambition. Queen of the Jews runs three different plot threads together: the story of housepainter Alejandro's interactions with his client Galia; Alejandro's separate but related interactions with a professor, who has sinister plans that involve Galia; and a retelling of the Maccabees Revolt, which history students might recognize as a conflict between pre-Christian Jews and ancient Greeks. Of course, a lot of these threads play it pretty standard for the conspiracy-thriller thing, especially Alejandro's interactions with the professor, who never really does much to distinguish himself beyond the "shadowy-villain" archetype, but I have to admit, stringing these three plots together was an ambitious move.
Still, the problem with Queen of the Jews is it doesn't do a lot to distinguish itself from other conspiracy thrillers. There's nothing particularly wrong with the prose, which is competent if unexceptional; Herzenberg overuses internal monolog, especially in Alejandro's interactions with Galia, but at least that internal monolog feels conversational, if a little bit stiff and wordy. Not the best, not the worst, in other words. Similarly, the plotting's a little slow for its genre, but everyone's allowed the occasional slow burn. Queen of the Jews doesn't suffer from any major structural mistakes so much as it simply fails to compel. The ingredients for a compelling novel are all here, too. A conflicted protagonist in Alejandro, torn between his loyalties to the Professor and his feelings for Galia, a fascinating and hugely influential historical event in the Maccabees rebellion, and some political implications - for instance, Alejandro agrees to work for the Professor to receive his green card. Yet the material never lives up to its potential, never gets any better than "just okay," never kicks into overdrive. A frustrating case of wasted potential if there ever was one.
Out of 10: 5.3