(Mark of the Lion #1)
by Francine Rivers
Published by Tyndale House Publishers
The year is 70 A.D. and Jerusalem is crumbling under the weight of its own disobedience. The beautiful temple is nearly obliterated - only a single wall remains standing. Jerusalem’s ultimate destruction is finalized by legions of Roman soldiers seeking the eradication of the Jewish population. Only a remnant survives - and many of those remaining will be sold as slaves or will soon perish in gladiator arenas.
Young Hadassah is one of those remaining and she questions why. Her mother and sister died of starvation when the doors to the walled city were closed, in an attempt to waylay the Romans ... a move which aided in the city’s destruction. Her brother was killed by a Roman soldier and her father was murdered because of his faith ... a faith in Jesus ... a faith Hadassah has always struggled with.
Francine Rivers weaves a graphic and emotional story of Hadassah as she is led on a harsh journey from Jerusalem to Rome. There she is sold to the wealthy and powerful Valerian family to be the daughter’s personal slave. Julia, the daughter is high spirited and longs to live like her older brother Marcus. He is handsome and brilliant and indulges in everything the amoral and corrupt city has to offer. The mother, Phoebe, finds solace in stone gods and the father, Decimus, is bereft over what has become of his family.
Throughout the novel, Hadassah contends with fear - afraid of proclaiming her faith in Rome, a city where Christians are not accepted and are frequently fed to the lions in the arena as they will not acknowledge the emperor to be a god. She frequently beseeches God to give her the courage to speak to the Valerians about Jesus, still, the words never come.
What Hadassah doesn’t realize is that, through her behavior, her witness is more powerful than words. While Hadassah sees herself as struggling, those around her are affected by her unfailing and gracious servitude. They marvel at her ability to be at peace when they, who have everything, know no peace. Ironically, the only person who is truly free, in the household, is the slave.
In this story we see despair brought on by acts of wanton selfishness and peace gained through acts of true courage, love and sacrifice. We see a family who has the world but no happiness and a young woman who owns nothing but has discovered true joy in her faith. The Valerians see the irony of the situation. The question is, are they willing to sacrifice what they own to gain what Hadassah has?
This novel is one that is better suited for mature teenagers through adult. Graphic depictions of warring and gladiator matches paint a believable picture of life in Rome and Ephesus. Romans are seen as arrogant, placing themselves above all others and living only for the moment ... searching for peace through money, amorality and their numerous stone gods and goddesses.
The book’s 500 pages fly by quickly and leave you yearning for more. The story of the Valerian family continues in a second book, An Echo in the Darkness. A 3rd book in the series, As Sure As the Dawn, follows the life of a Germanic gladiator who plays a prominent role in the first book. I highly recommend all three novels. They are very well written and thoroughly researched. They provide a hard glimpse into a life that today’s Christian could not even fathom.