Saturday, June 4, 2016

Review: Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette

Counted With the Stars (Out from Egypt #1)
By: Connilyn Cossette
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1437-0


The only daughter of a prosperous trader, promised in marriage to one of Pharaoh's handsome soldiers, Kiya enjoyed a life of privilege and favor...until the day her father's penchant for risky business ventures resulted in the loss of the family fortune. In order to prevent total ruin, and to save her beloved mother and disabled brother from complete ruin, Kiya's father sells her into slavery. Bound to serve at the whim of her new masters, in one stroke Kiya loses everything -- her family, possessions, freedom...her very identity. While her new master, Shefu, is kind, his wife Tekurah takes delight in reveling in Kiya's fall from grace, seeking every opportunity to humiliate the daughter of her one-time social equals.

But amidst the hardship and humiliation, Kiya finds a ray of light in friendship from an unexpected quarter -- a Hebrew and fellow slave, Shira. Despite the hardship of their shared circumstances, despite the abuses she's survived, Shira is never without hope, a seeming contradiction in terms that draws Kiya like a moth to a flame. When a terrifying plague hits at the very heart of Egypt, turning the life-giving waters of the Nile into blood, it's to Shira and her unshakable belief in her God's provision that an increasingly desperate Kiya turns, seeking answers. Mosheh (Moses), a legendary leader, has returned to the Hebrews. His presence stirs the Hebrew slaves' hope in long-held promises that their God would deliver them from Pharaoh, free them from the bondage of slavery, and establish his chosen people in their own promised land. As plague follows plague, everything Kiya once held to be true about her life and faith is shaken to the core. Yet when a chance comes to claim her freedom with the Hebrews, can she truly risk her future and cast aside everything she has ever believed in, and entrust her future to a God she cannot see?

Biblical fiction can be a tricky medium, for there is a fine line between illuminating the bones of scripture, breathing life and humanity into the God-breathed words recorded so long ago, and reinterpreting it wholesale through a fictional, modern lens. The best biblical fiction drives one to the scriptures. Cossette succeeds in breathing new life into one of the Bible's most familiar stories -- that of Moses and the Exodus -- by rather radically relegating Moses to a minor supporting role in her take on the familiar tale. Instead of following Moses through the scriptures, through Kiya's eyes Cossette allows readers to see the familiar events of the Exodus from the perspective of a character wholly unfamiliar with the prophecies, promises, and experiences of the Hebrew people that have led to the plagues and the impending journey to the promised homeland.

For those raised in the church like myself, it is all too easy to come to the scriptures -- or biblically-based stories or films -- entrenched and secure in my background and history of Judeo-Christian belief. But revisiting such a familiar tale through the eyes of a non-believer -- here represented by Kiya -- allows one to watch these earth-shattering events unfold as they occur, a valuable exercise in faith. It not only reminds one of the roots of one's beliefs, but for those raised or long-established in the faith, stories such as Kiya's are a powerful reminder of the transformational power of belief available to those who seek God and strive to live within his will. In western culture especially the Judeo-Christian worldview is so prevalent in some form or fashion it is easy to forget how radical and life-changing this belief system really is -- and whether or not one is raised on the scriptures, it is critical, I think, to never forget that and to remember it should never be taken for granted.

Compared to other biblical fiction on the market (such as Mesu Andrews and Angela Hunt), Cossette's debut offering lacks something of the tangible sense of time and place that other novels of this ilk possess. And Kiya's voice is occasionally too modern in tone to exist believably within this novel's time frame. That said, Cossette has an assured authorial voice that is sure to grow with future offerings, spinning a beautifully-rendered romance set against an epic biblical backdrop. As a romance it works on two levels, between Kiya and the God of the Hebrews and Kiya and Eben, Shira's older brother, the latter a romance of warring worldviews and cultural opposites. As a woman whose worth was always rooted in her position, once Kiya joins the Hebrew exodus she discovers the grace and unmerited favor granted under the Hebraic covenant available to her should she choose to accept it, mirroring the New Testament "grafting" of Gentiles and Hebrews into a shared covenant relationship with God that found prophetic completion with the coming of Christ.

Counted With the Stars is a refreshing addition to the biblical fiction genre, approaching one of the Bible's most well-known stories through the eyes of an unbeliever. Kiya's journey from skeptic to acceptance is sketched with honesty and compassion, as Cossette is unafraid to confront the honest, heart-rending questions that come with such a massive shift in one's focus and worldview. Kiya's story is a microcosm of the covenant relationship between God and His people woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. Equal parts swoon-worthy romance and history lesson, Cossette's debut is an engrossing page-turner. Cossette's unique and refreshing take on biblical fiction makes Counted With the Stars a gorgeously-rendered, thought-provoking read. I cannot wait for the next installment in this series!

About the book:

Sold into slavery by her father and forsaken by the man she was supposed to marry, young Egyptian Kiya must serve a mistress who takes pleasure in her humiliation. When terrifying plagues strike Egypt, Kiya is in the middle of it all.

Choosing to flee with the Hebrews, Kiya finds herself reliant on a strange God an drawn to a man who despises her people. With everything she's ever known swept away and now facing the trials of the desert, will she turn back toward Egypt or surrender her life and her future to Yahweh?

Note:  This review originally appeared on LifeWay's Shelf Life blog.

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