The Idumean Covenant by Eugene Stovall

The Idumean Covenant: A Novel of the Fall of Jerusalem
Eugene Stovall
OPC, 2009
430 pages

Note: This is a guest review by Bronwen Forbes, who graciously agreed to take on some of the extra review copies I had when I decided to go on semi-hiatus.

Guest reviewer Bronwen Forbes again with the third book that Lupa invited me to comment upon here.
The Idumean Covenant is the story of two men, Robban and Lupo who find themselves caught up in the fall of Jerusalem in the time of the Roman emperor Nero. When childhood friends Robban and Lupo run away from their powerful yet benevolent owner, they join the Sicarii, an army of Jewish bandits that are sworn to liberate Jerusalem from its Roman rulers. The two friends inadvertently find themselves making history as the son of their former owner rises in power.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. I even tried to set aside my longstanding dislike of novels that are told in third person present tense (“Josephus remains immobile, saying nothing.”). But when character point-of-view switched every few paragraphs, I quickly gave up on whose head I was supposed to be in at any given moment. Very confusing.

There is also an overabundance of telling the reader about the major historical events that frame the novel, rather than placing the characters in those events and letting the reader see them through the character’s eyes. I am not a scholar of this particular period in history (that’s my history professor husband’s job), so I was completely lost as to the deep significance of these events as they pertained to the novel. And without a good understanding of the historical events, the entire point of the story was lost to me.

For instance, the author indicates that the Sicarii raids on Roman caravans is a major plot point, yet the reader is only told about these raids in a few lecture-dreary info-dump paragraphs. Seeing the raids, being there with Robban and Lupo would have been much more effective and interesting to read. Sadly, this is just one of many examples of why “show, don’t tell” is Rule #1 for all good fiction authors.

However, the story (as opposed to the mini historic lectures) is well-written with interesting, sympathetic characters, and Stovall is quite good at illustrating little details about life in the first century c.e. Jerusalem. Perhaps someone more familiar with the history of the period would appreciate the book more.

Three pawprints out of five.

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