Monday, November 11, 2013

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Book Review: Pearl Maiden

Warning: This review contains spoilers

Pearl Maiden: 
A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem

Sir H. R. Haggard

The story of Miriam, a young Christian woman living in the Roman Empire during the first century, and Marcus, the Roman officer who desired to win her hand.

5 Stars

Personal Thoughts:

Some would say Pearl Maiden is historical-fiction. I debate that. It is what I would probably consider historical-romance, as the whole book primarily centers around the relationship of the two protagonists. 

I love this book. I always have. I read it when I was quite young, probably eleven or twelve. I remember that I had read it when all my friends told me they had to wait until they were thirteen. It didn't hurt me to read it early, but I do think it is a 13+ book. Of course, depending on the maturity of the reader, many of the aspects may go over their head if they do read it early.

About the Book:

As you read above, this is the story of a Christian Jewish woman named Miriam and a carnal, dashing Roman officer named Marcus. Naturally, Miriam is so beautiful everyone falls in love with her on sight. Her only defect is being "too small". Marcus isn't exactly repulsive either. Judging by physical attributes, one might say they are perfectly suited. Except for one thing.

Marcus is a worldly pagan (though dashing, one must add). Miriam is a pure Christian.

Bound by her mother's dying order and the dictates of her own faith, Miriam refuses to marry Marcus, although she loves him. Some have faulted the book because she gives her heart to a man she knows she can never marry. A good point, but it's the story nonetheless. Moving on, she and Marcus separate through forced circumstances. Will they ever meet again? I'll leave it to you to guess!

Historical Details:

This book is set in the Roman empire, shortly after the ascension of Christ. Persecution is rampant and the Jews are in the midst of civil discord. From Zealots to Essenes to Christians, no one seems to have a grip. I do love how this book portrays every single side of the turbulence, including the Romans. There is a character from every political group representing the minds and hearts of their particular group.

The persecution of the believers, the oppression of the Jews, and the lifestyle of the Romans is clearly depicted. You will feel as if you have experienced those volatile years and will definitely come away from this book knowing your history very well! Haggard weaves facts, places, and events all throughout the story-line. Miriam experiences virtually everything that happened during that time, from the sacking of Tyre to the actual siege of Jerusalem to the triumph of Titus and Vespasian.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
  • This story is beautifully written. You will feel, hear, smell, and touch everything in turbulent Jerusalem to decadent Rome. Haggard's words flow with wonderful acuteness. 
  • You won't come away from this book unchanged. You will learn something about the era, hopefully your faith will be strengthened, and you may even appreciate your current circumstances a little better. You can't help but see how easy we have it after reading it.
  • This is a story of faith. You will see how Christianity always strengthens under persecution, you will admire Miriam's strength, you will be encouraged by how Miriam obeys her dead parents and heeds her own conscience. You will see how faith is always victorious.
  • You will see how God gives us no trial too hard to bear. There is a lot of temptation revealed in this book; Haggard doesn't deceive us by painting a pretty picture. It's real, it's vivid. But you will see how, even in the strongest temptations, you can overcome them.

Cons: (These are debatable. Some may not consider them cons at all. Some of them I do not consider cons, but merely warnings for those who may have objections. Some are aspects I truly do not like, such as the first one.)
  • Two kissing scenes. Marcus and Miriam almost kiss once, then he (carnal Roman that he is) stops. On the second scene, Miriam revives Marcus from a deadly faint with a kiss. Kind of cliche, but there you are. Nothing is too vivid or uncomfortably portrayed. I still didn't like it. As a historian, I know that kissing in that era ended one's virginity. So, for that particular era and because Miriam still knew she could never marry Marcus, I think it was wrong. (And I do not think kissing before marriage in this era is appropriate either. Personal disclaimer there.)
  • This book does contain violence. Probably no more violent than a Henty. Let me put it this way - if it was a movie, I would not be able to watch it. But Haggard does not go into excessive details; I feel he tells as much as is necessary to paint an accurate picture. The fall of Jerusalem and the persecution of the Christians was not pretty.

Warnings. Parents, I do think this is an excellent book for teenage readers. However, I do know of some scenes that may or may not make you uncomfortable. Here they are:
  • The violence surrounding the siege of Jerusalem does include talking ever so slightly (not much) about the cannibalism that was prophesied to happen in the Bible.
  • Miriam is ultimately sold as a slave. Slave auctions were not pretty. In fact, they were grossly immoral events. Haggard does not go too overly in detail, but you do get a good sense of how terrible they were. There is some violence connected with the auction that may or may not have been unnecessary.
  • Marcus buys Miriam. As a pagan Roman (and most Christians would have struggled with this too), he desires to keep her. There is some conversation about it and he does release her. Nothing sensual is said, no descriptions are given that would cause someone to think ungodly thoughts. Personally, I think it was very tactfully done and is a good way of explaining to younger people the wickedness of slavery. 

I do recommend this book to readers 13+. I think this is probably the best Roman/Siege of Jerusalem book out there. There are others (including the most popular series, who name I will not say) I would be unable to recommend for many reasons (even if I had read them).

Pearl Maiden is tactfully and beautifully written. I think Haggard did a better job of being accurate, yet discreet than any other author on this subject. I have read this book countless time, hence my longer review and more detailed thoughts. I do not claim to agree with every aspect, but, again, I do think it the best book out there. (Until my own Roman book comes out, heehee!) 


Marcus fights the handsome villain, Caleb the Jew.

Questions? Comments? Leave them below!
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2 comments:

  1. A very good review! I liked this book, too ... it had such an interesting, twisting storyline. I enjoyed learning about that era. What you said about the kissing scene was eye-opening to me! I had no idea that was the case. And I agree with your "personal disclaimer" about kissing before marriage. : )
    When I think about "Pearl Maiden," I can't help but think about Henty's "For the Temple" and "Beric the Briton." Did you like those books as well?

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    1. I only recently learned that fact myself, when I was studying Roman marriage and relationships. Funny that the very carnal Romans had such an idea. It didn't make them any purer. Contrast that with the Middle Ages. You kissed at the time of your betrothal (before marriage), but lasciviousness wasn't running rampant as it was in Rome.

      I've read both of those books. I also like "The Cross Triumphant" by my favorite classical author Florence Kingsley. For the Temple was very excellent; Beric the Briton was an ok read for me. :)

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