Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Tyndale House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)
I was going to try to come up with a somewhat shorter review for this, but, hey. It’s Ben-Hur, folks. Besides, it was a pretty special decision of mine to read Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by author Carol Wallace.
Lover of classic literature that I am, I’m not someone who “worships” classics or who thinks all of them have to be marvelous to me just because they’re old and celebrated. But even with its few aspects that I must have read with a lifted eyebrow, I truly appreciated the original Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace, finding it engrossing, thought-provoking, and amazing on more than one level.
I’ll admit that I don’t normally go for contemporary adaptations of classics when the originals are available. It’s not my preference to read a reworded or whittled down version that may leave out much of what the first author wrote, since it was written for a reason, and I’m not looking for an easier read. Even if a classic novel may be a challenge, I’d rather set out to rise to that challenge.
With that said, I chose to read this 2016 adaptation of a novel from 1880 specifically because the present author is a direct part of her great-great-grandfather’s legacy. I was curious to see exactly what she did with his work.
And I think Carol Wallace has done a fine job, taking the great material she had to work with and doing justice to it for a new audience. There’s action and intrigue, tragedy and triumph on the journey that leads Judah Ben-Hur to a peculiar Nazarene, the one who’s rumored to be the imminent king who’ll liberate his people from Roman rule.
The historical and biblical settings on land and sea are wonderfully realized, and I especially enjoyed Judah’s process through disillusionment, rage, determination, and the path that ultimately humbles and gives him a new purpose. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the romance here but wasn’t expecting it to be one of this story’s strongest points anyway. I did miss the omitted opening, some of the dialogue, and Judah’s musings that were left out, as I found much of the original novel’s richness in those parts, but not everyone will miss them. And I liked the depiction of Christ here better, as the older version of the character came off as overdone and soft to me, too much of an ethereal beauty.
My inevitable comparisons of the two novels aside, I still enjoyed this new work from beginning to end. I’m sure many other historical and biblical fiction fans who like epic reads will enjoy it as well.