Lynn Austin’s newest Biblical fiction release, Return to Me, is a beautiful story spanning about 20 years. Iddo and his wife Dinah and their family are Jews living in Babylon, near the end of the Babylonian captivity. When Cyrus, king of Persia, conquers Babylon and gives the Jews the freedom to return to their homeland, it seems too good to be true. Iddo is thrilled at the thought of returning to the place he remembers from his childhood. For other Jews, the choice to leave their comfortable lives in Babylon is not so easy. Families are divided as some adult children decide to remain in their familiar surroundings, rather than risk the hardships of the long trek back to Jerusalem. With a heavy heart, Dinah accompanies her husband back “home,” feeling torn because most of her family has stayed behind. The only bright spot is their grandson Zechariah (Zaki), who has chosen to accompany Iddo and Dinah. And along with Zaki, Dinah is also responsible for looking after their young neighbor girl, Yael, whose mother died in Babylon. Upon arrival in the Holy Land, the Jews face more hardships than they’d expected. Opposition from the neighboring Samaritans grows stronger, and work on rebuilding the Temple stalls for years. Iddo grows frustrated as he seeks to understand the balance between God’s laws and His love, while Dinah deals with her own personal struggles and Yael pushes her boundaries more and more. And Zaki longs to feel God’s presence in a personal way as he did once long ago. Among the broken stones and brambles covering Jerusalem, can the returning remnant carve out a new life and return to true worship of the Holy One?
There was a time that I thought I wouldn’t enjoy Biblical fiction. I was happily mistaken. :) Although I haven’t yet read any of Lynn Austin’s Chronicles of the Kings (a series set earlier in Biblical history), I was excited to have the chance to review this first book in her new Restoration Chronicles series. Return to Me has (in my opinion) one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen, and the story inside was beautiful as well. It’s a long book--the story begins at the end of the Babylonian captivity, and covers a 20 year period--but large chunks of years are left out, so the actual story concentrates on only a few years. We get to observe Zaki and Yael’s growing-up years in greater detail, and then certain sections of their lives as young adults. I loved the main characters in this book. Yael was one of my favorites, although for a long time I wasn’t sure how she would turn out! Iddo was another favorite; his passion for God was inspiring, but watching him come to the realization of God’s love and how that related to Iddo’s care and concern for others, was even better. Each one of these characters had their own flaws, their own lessons to learn and teach, and they all seemed so real. Austin also did a wonderful job describing the setting and how discouraging it must have been to the remnant as they realized the massive amount of work that would go into rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple. These were some strong and courageous people!
My only teensy tiny complaint about the book is this: sometimes the language jerked me out of the time period. This is a pet peeve of mine--when an author uses a modern-day term like “okay” in a historical novel. I realize that authors are writing for a modern audience . . . truly, I understand this. I realize the characters’ way of speaking in a novel isn’t going to be entirely authentic to the time period, so that the modern reader can understand and enjoy the writing. But throwing in a word like “okay” (which wasn’t done often, but I noticed it several times) seriously interrupts the flow of the story for me every time it happens, and it happens a LOT in historical Christian fiction. Anyway, pet peeve aside, I loved everything else about Return to Me, and I would highly recommend this book!! Lynn Austin is a fantastic writer, and I can't imagine the amount of research that she has to put into a book, especially one based on Biblical events where she is carefully working to keep it accurate to the Biblical record. It really brought Scripture to life for me, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the Restoration Chronicles.
*I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.