Book Review: The Reluctant General

The Reluctant General: A Novel About Ancient Israel, by Herb Sennett

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bostick Communications in exchange for an honest review.]

This particular book is a novelization of the story of Barak and Deborah, and the Israelite effort to overthrow the oppression of King Jabin of Hazor. The novel itself focuses on a few elements, mostly the Isrealites but also attempting to reconstruct a picture of Canaanite Hazor. The book seems to present Hazor as an imperial sort of city, with a pride in its massive armies having fought against Egypt as well as seeking domination over Israel by attacking both to the north and to the south. There are some aspects to this story that make sense, but others that do not. For example, even websites that have pathetic anti-biblical worldviews are able to recognize the presence of Egyptian statuary in the Hazor that was likely destroyed by Barak’s army [1], and the fact that Hazor would have had Egyptian statuary suggests that it may have served not as a mighty imperial capital but rather a base where an Egyptian-supported army sought to put down Israel through a Canaanite client-king. The novel does not appear to have any idea that this may have occurred, which suggests some blindness about the historical context of the time of the Judges.

That said, despite these quibbles, a lot of the novel comes off as plausible, if a bit convenient, like killing off Deborah’s husband, making Barak a passionate widower, and throwing them together with romantic tension. The battle scenes, particularly the ambushes and unconventional warfare and spycraft practiced by both the Israelites and the Canaanites would appear to correspond with biblical practice [2]. Likewise, the author’s portrayal of the Israelites as subsistence level farmers without a lot of weapons definitely corresponds with the biblical account in the time of the Judges and the early monarchy. Despite a bit of an overly didactic approach, there is a lot to appreciate about this book.

Where this book particularly succeeds is in the female characters. To be honest, most of the male characters seem to be posers. Barak is the eponymous reluctant general until he gets bloodthirsty to protect Deborah and pronounce that Hazor is herem. Lapidoth (that is, Deborah’s husband) is a decent but rather unspectacular man who seems much older than his wife (at least that is my impression, as she is portrayed as being in her early 30’s in this novel, and he seems like at least ten to fifteen years older as a farmer somewhat set in his ways, but a kindly man). Too bad Lapidoth is conveniently killed to provide for romantic tension, as he deserved a better fate. The women in this novel, from the brave Deborah to Sisera’s harpy-like mother to the vengeful Jael to Jabin’s wife as the victim of domestic abuse, are far more sympathetically and realistically drawn. Count this as one of several novels I have read that seem to focus particularly strongly and well on women. I suppose I cannot complain when others do that in their writing, though, given my own writing.


[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical Art of War, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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