The Seventh Handmaiden by Judith Pransky
Darya does not remember how she came to be a slave or who she was before she was bought by an army captain for his motherless daughter in the ancient Persian city of Susa. Protected and nurtured by the housekeeper and her daughter, Darya has as good a life as a slave can have, even acquiring the rare skill of reading and writing, which she learns alongside her young mistress. When the captain dies and the household is broken up, this skill proves to be her lifeline. She becomes the seventh handmaiden to the mysterious Esther, who is being housed at the Royal Palace while in contention to be King Xerxes’ new Queen.
However, life in Ancient Persia is precarious for women and outsiders, wherever they are in the hierarchy. When the king appoints a new prime minister called Haman, Darya and Esther are drawn into his murderous conflict with the Judean community and Mordechai, their leader, who lives just outside the palace gates.
In a world of discord and uprising, Darya seeks to fix the world around her and protect her friends, while also trying to unravel the mysteries surrounding who she is and how she became a slave. As she grows from childhood to womanhood she grapples with her own identity, her aspirations and desires and begins to understand the true meaning of both slavery and freedom.
Year first published: 2021