Speare, Elizabeth George. The Bronze Bow. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.
In this Newbery Medal-winning novel, Daniel bar Jamin is fired by only one passion: to avenge his father’s death by crucifixion by driving the Roman legions from his land of Israel. He joins an outlaw band and leads a dangerous life of spying, plotting, and impatiently waiting to seek revenge. Headstrong Daniel is devoid of tenderness and forgiveness, heading down a destructive path toward disaster until he hears the lessons taught by Jesus of Nazareth. With a brand new cover, young readers won’t be able to pass up this timeless tale.
The Newbery Winner for 1962 is… old. Despite the blurb above claiming the cover will entice readers, I really don’t think it will. I didn’t know anything about the novel before reading it (I listened to it as an audiobook), and at first I thought it was just historical fiction. I quickly realized it takes place in biblical times, and with the main character being named Daniel I thought maybe it would be about the boy by that name who was sent into the lion’s den. No, the man sent into the lion’s den was the namesake for the man in this book. THIS Daniel story takes place as Jesus Christ is alive and gaining momentum. And Jesus himself is a supporting character.
Not that there is anything inherently wrong with Biblical stories, and in fact I support any author’s right to use any subject matter they choose, even those topics some might consider sacrilegious. I am simply not interested in reading religious novels like this. So with that said, continue reading this and all of my reviews knowing that your personal tastes may vary from mine, and my word is not the Gospel. (Pun intended. Feel free to jeer.)
This book is probably one better suited to a male audience. Daniel wants to venge his father’s death at the hands of the Romans, and he has a built a life around his anger and hate. He ran away from an apprenticeship as a blacksmith, abandoning his grandmother and sister Leah. He lives in a mountain cave with a group of outlaws led by Rosh, and believes that Rosh is the man the Jews have been waiting for that will bring about the Romans’ downfall. Blah blah blah, hate, blah blah blah, ambush, blah blah blah, plotting against the Romans, blah blah blah, who is this new preacher guy Jesus who is a carpenter but knows the Jewish law and teaches that God loves children and wants everybody to be kind to everybody else?
I was a lot more interested in the reclusive Leah. When a certain blonde-haired Roman soldier keeps finding dumb reasons to come to Daniel’s blacksmith shop (long story, but he’s really just using his friend Simon the Zealot’s home and shop since Simon has gone to follow Jesus), Daniel thinks the Romans are on to his and his friends’ new gang, which has been meeting in secret at the shop at night. So they change their meeting spot, and the soldier comes around a lot less. But I’m a girl, and I knew he was just coming around to see Leah. I was not at all surprised, as Daniel is, when he finds out at the end of the novel (though I still don’t like the book, you might want to read it so I won’t spoil how he finds out).
And I was a lot more interested in Thacia, the twin sister of Daniel’s friend Joel. She becomes Leah’s first friend, and she clearly likes Daniel. She acts in a way becoming of a woman of the day, but if the story was rewritten for modern times she would probably be writing in her diary every night about how she shouldn’t like him, because he’s a “bad” boy, but how she just can’t help it.
The story would be much different if told from Thacia’s point of view. Which apparently, in fact, was the author’s original plan. I think I would have liked to have read that book. Or at least I wouldn’t have so strongly disliked it.