The Prince and the Prodigal by Jill Eileen Smith (Book Review)
Joseph is the pampered favorite son of the patriarch Jacob. His older brothers, deeply resentful of his status in the family, take advantage of the chance to get rid of him, selling him to slave traders and deceiving their father about his fate. It seems like their troubles are over. But for Joseph and older brother Judah, they are just beginning.
While Joseph is accused of rape and imprisoned, Judah attempts to flee the memory of his complicity in the betrayal of his younger brother. After decades apart, the brothers will come face-to-face in a stunning role reversal that sees Joseph in a position of great power while Judah begs for mercy. Will forgiveness or vengeance win the day?
Bestselling and award-winning author Jill Eileen Smith brings her considerable research and imaginative skills to bear in this vivid retelling of one of the most popular stories found in Scripture--a story of jealousy, betrayal, and a reconciliation that only God could bring about.
The premise of this book intrigued me. I have been looking forward to this season in the Biblical fiction genre for a while, as there have been a few Joseph-centered books published lately. It’s a story I didn’t understand for a long time, but really connected with during my teenage years. It had a profound impact on me, so I was excited to read Jill Eileen Smith’s take on the story, as well as the complicated nuances of Judah and the elements of the “prodigal son” storyline.
For me, the book started out slow but with great promise. I was intrigued by all the characters, but especially Joseph in the beginning. However, the details of Joseph’s relationships with his half-siblings and the adversity between them, as well as when they sold him into slavery, quickly became very triggering for me to read. I had to put the book down several times because it made me feel anxious and brought up some bad memories for me.
Once Joseph arrived in Egypt, I started to feel like his story became a bit predictable. It is a Biblical retelling, so an element of predictability is to be expected, but I felt like I was going through the motions. Many of the major characters became flat to me, their dialogue felt unnatural or clunky in some areas, and the characters I wanted to know more about didn’t seem to have enough time in the story.
It was at this point that I became more interested in Judah’s character and the pace started to pick up again, but after a while the overall story started to drag once more. The conclusion felt very rushed, and I didn’t feel enough satisfaction in the arcs of any of the main characters. All the right things happened, but they seemed to lack depth or emotional impact for me. Some of the darker elements felt over-emphasized, and there wasn’t enough light to redeem those moments for me.
There were a lot of things I liked about this book, despite how this may sound. I loved the prodigal son element to the story. I liked Dinah and Judah’s inclusion in the story and the focus on what was going on in their lives at that time—often excluded from other Joseph-centered retellings. I thought the research into the story and the time period was good as well, but the pacing issues, certain kinds of content, my inability to connect with the characters, and the weak conclusion weren’t enough for me to rate this book very highly. It’s not likely one that I would pick up again.
Please note: I don’t like writing negative reviews at all, especially not for an author whose work I have enjoyed reading for so long. I adored Jill Eileen Smith’s Wives of King David, Wives of the Patriarchs, and Daughters of the Promised Land series when I read them years ago. They were some of the books that brought me into the Biblical fiction genre, and defined my standard for good Biblical fiction at the time. I stand by those recommendations, but since The Heart of a King Jill Eileen Smith's recent books have been hit or miss for me. Truthfully, I do not know if this reflects on the author as much as it reflects on me. I think my tastes have just changed, I've grown in a different way, and I look for other things in the stories I read. While I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for those earlier books, it may be time for me to close this chapter (at least temporarily) in my reading life. I will still follow along with Jill Eileen Smith, and I can’t say for certain I won’t read more of her books in the future. Never say never! At this time, though, I think my preferences are elsewhere.
*I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. All opinions are my own.