A couple of months ago, I received the offer to review the book Shepherd, Potter, Spy—and the Star Namer for Peggy Consolver—author. She had been intrigued by the story of the Gibeonites, found in Joshua 9 and 10, and wanted to write a novel about them. Well, I was immediately intrigued by the idea; I had never come across a story written from that point of view before! So, of course, I signed up for it.
Keshub is the main character; he is a 12-year-old as the story begins. He lives in Gibeon, and is a shepherd for his family. One day, he runs across an Amorite boy on the border between their lands, and is startled to learn that the boy, bin Zedek, a son of Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem, hates his own father. Why? He learns the terrible reason a few months later. As Keshub grows, he graduates to a new job, helping in the family’s pottery business. He especially loves helping his uncle sell their wares in nearby Jerusalem and Jericho, and badly wants to travel outside of Aijalon Valley. But soon, disturbing news reaching the village occupies his mind. A huge group of people, the Hebrews, are camped on the border of Canaan. Some 40 years ago, they came out of Egypt, leaving chaos in their wake—what will happen now? As they come closer to Gibeon, Keshub’s people prepare to defend themselves. Soon, Keshub and his brother are involved with spying on the Hebrews. Their people still haven’t figured out how to save themselves, although Keshub’s father is beginning to think that the Star Namer he has heard of, the God who made the stars and everything else, may be the same God who is allowing the Hebrews to cross the flooded Jordan River on dry ground, and making the walls of Jericho fall outward before his son’s eyes. What will he do with this knowledge?
We enjoyed this story. The terror in the minds of the Canaanites, and the various ways they reacted to the threat of the Hebrews as they approached, was really brought to life. I also appreciated the way the author switched back and forth, mostly telling the story from Keshub’s Canaanite point of view, but at times showing us the life of a boy in the Hebrew camp. I hadn’t thought about it much before how the people would have known that all the men of a certain age and older would be dying before long, before they would enter the Promised Land. That dread is brought out in this story. The family relationships were beautiful, too. We especially liked one line, where Mother said, “Boys, beware when your brother wears that look. He can talk you out of your woolen blanket on the coldest day.” I also felt like we really got a feel for the geography of the area. It was obvious that the author had spent some time there, learning to know what the place was like.
Although we enjoyed the historical aspect of the book, there were a few complaints we had. It seemed like the narration was rather long-winded; we felt like it could be cut down by half or even two-thirds and tell the same story without dragging so much. I had a little trouble with the quality of proofreading, as well; words were not always divided properly at the end of lines, which made it hard to read aloud, and one character’s name was spelled three different ways. We also wondered about the total lack of religion in the lives of the Gibeonites.
All in all, I would recommend this book as a very clean, fairly accurate story of Bible Times. We read it aloud, and all the children were listening in. It is not a story with a lot of tension; I didn’t get many requests for “another chapter.” On the other hand, my 7-year-old wouldn’t mind hearing it again sometime!
The author has created a study guide for the book. I did not purchase it, but did look over the sample. If you wanted to do a unit study on Ancient Israel, this would be a wonderful resource. She has some maps, and many links to help you learn more about various topics mentioned in the book.