Although I wasn't particularly "wowed" by the previous two books in this trilogy, I was looking forward to this one, interested to see what Jill Eileen Smith would do with the story of Bathsheba, the most notorious of David's wives. While the overall quality of the writing of Bathsheba is on par with the prior two books, it has neither the strong ending of Michal nor the sympathetic and engaging heroine of Abigail; as a result, I found the book to be lackluster and the weakest installment in the trilogy.
Unlike Michal and Abigail, scripture gives no indication of Bathsheba's personality or character: not even the barest hint. We are told she was beautiful, and that is it. For an author this leaves the door wide open to endless possibilities; however, it also presents a challenge for the author to flesh out Bathsheba in a way that is credible and that today's readers can connect with.
I was disappointed in the way that Smith interpreted Bathsheba, and, in fact, I had difficulty figuring out just where Bathsheba was coming from most of the time. In the first part of the book, when she is married to Uriah, the plot consists mainly of Uriah preparing to go to battle (while King David stayed home), Bathsheba coping with the disappointment and loneliness, then Uriah returning home and being reunited with his wife. This scenario was repeated several times and I couldn't see the necessity of the repetition; surely one such scenario could have adequately conveyed the challenges that Bathsheba dealt with as an Old Testament "military wife?" During this first part I couldn't, as I mentioned above, ever really figure out where Bathsheba stood. She wavered between loving (or perhaps just lusting?) her husband, and seeming to be bored/unhappy with him. At the same time she had an on-and-off, eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room attraction to King David. It wasn't so much her emotional wavering that bothered me -- after all, that is often how life is and we don't always stand on solid emotional footing. But somehow it just never came into clear, conclusive focus. Rather than a woman struggling with warring attractions and feelings, Bathsheba's conflicting feelings felt immature and girlish, like that of a discontented and bored young wife unworthy of her honest, hardworking, heroic husband -- not something to endear her to readers (or this reader, anyway). And in fact, the protracted attraction between David and Bathsheba, beginning years before their actual act of adultery, which I suspect was intended to build up the "romance" between them, in fact actually weakened the story overall. It cheapened the characters of David and Bathsheba and made their attraction feel overworked.
Once the adultery had been committed, and Bathsheba found herself in the dire predicament of being pregnant by the king while her husband was off at war, I still couldn't connect with her. Any sympathy I might have felt was essentially killed by her displaced anger at the king, her placing of the blame entirely on him. She conveniently forgot that she was a willing participant (David never forced her) who had been driven by her own lust.
Although Smith did a slightly better job with David this time -- at least he didn't come across as a cad like in Abigail -- still he wasn't all that interesting. Uriah was the only character who elicited my sympathy -- not surprising, since he was the innocent party, far more honorable than either David or Bathsheba.
The last part of the book, after Bathsheba was established as David's wife, was slow and drawn out, and frankly didn't add anything to the story. The book would have been better ended at the birth of Solomon.
But my biggest disappointment with this book was that the author chose to depict the story of David and Bathsheba as a romance between two starry-eyed lovers. There is one thing the story of David and Bathsheba is not, and that is a romance. It is a story of lust, betrayal, adultery and murder. And perhaps even rape -- although authors all seem to interpret the David/Bathsheba story in much the same way, with a strong mutual attraction between the two, there is absolutely nothing in the Biblical account to hint at Bathsheba's feelings about the matter, and in fact I believe it is sugar-coating what really happened. Yes, theirs is also a story of repentance, restoration and the incredible grace and mercy of God, which is why I believe it is included in the Bible. And perhaps David and Bathsheba did come to truly love each other, we don't really know. But if they did, it was a hard-won love bought at a terrible price. Smith did include all the relevant aspects of the story as recorded in scripture, but somehow her version just comes across as too dreamy, too much of a soft-focus romance lacking any strong feeling or emotional turmoil. For me, it turned the story of David and Bathsheba into a disappointing soap opera.
I have decided to pull my other book about Bathsheba -- Unspoken by Francine Rivers -- off the shelf and give it a re-read. It's been 10 years since I read it, and it will be interesting to see how her interpretation of the story compares to this one.