Connilyn Cossette. A Light on a Hill. Bethany House, 2018. See here to buy the book.
A Light on a Hill is the first book of Connilyn Cossette’s “Cities of Refuge” series. The Israelite cities of refuge are discussed in Numbers 35. Essentially, they are cities to which a person who commits manslaughter flees, to be protected from death at the hands of the victim’s avenging relatives. Priests also live in cities of refuge. A Light on a Hill takes place seven years after Cossette’s book, Wings of the Wind, which was the third book of Cossette’s “Out of Egypt” series.
Moshe has died, and his successor, Yehoshua, has led the Israelites to conquer many, but not all, of the cities of Canaan. Moriyah is a daughter of an Egyptian who joined the Israelites, and, at the beginning of the book, she is a captive in Jericho. She is being prepared to become a Temple prostitute and is tattooed with images of Canaanite deities. She manages to escape and returns to the Israelites. Ashamed of her tattoos, she continually wears a veil among the Israelites.
At a festival, she meets a man named Darek, and they develop a chemistry. She thinks that he is the man to whom his father is engaging her, but it turns out that she is engaged to his cold older brother, Raviv. Raviv has two twin sons, and they are bullying Moriyah’s young friend, Eitan. Moriyah threatens the twins as she is preparing soup for the family. A poisonous plant gets inside of the soup, and the twins die. Moriyah looks like a murderer, so she undertakes a journey to a city of refuge to escape being killed by Raviv and to await a trial. She is joined by her family’s servant, the loyal Yuval, and, eventually, the conflicted Darek shows up and accompanies her on her journey. They have adventures, and Darek and Moriyah both confront their inner demons.
My response to Wings of the Wind was rather “meh”: it seemed to regurgitate the standard Christian apologetics about the Israelite conquest, and the depiction of the Canaanites was flat. A Light on a Hill, by contrast, was really good. Many of the characters struggled with ambivalence or painful pasts and presents; some learned profound spiritual lessons, and some did not. Among the lessons that Moriyah learned was the importance of loving her enemies, how to hear the voice of God, and how she was wrong to judge her fellow Israelites as harshly as she did.
There were characters whom I especially liked, and scenes that I enjoyed. One character was Ora, a blind woman whom Moriyah helped. Ora was a quiet, peaceful, and wise presence in Moriyah’s life. There was a Midianite woman who was asking spiritual questions. In terms of scenes, Yuval and Darek learning to like each other after their initial suspicion stood out to me, as did the tense scene in which Moriyah was pretending to be a Canaanite priestess, as a Canaanite king questioned her to see if she was telling the truth.
Cossette also incorporates scholarship into her story, such as the historical recognition that Egypt controlled many cities of Canaan in the fifteenth century B.C.E.
There were some quibbles that I had: how could Yuval be released from slavery in the seventh year, when Yuval was not a Hebrew, and Hebrew slaves were the slaves who were released at that time (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12)? He is depicted as somewhat of a convert, so that may be the reason.
The romantic dialogue could get cheesy, and Eitan was a bit annoying, but this was an enjoyable book, in that it had comfortable characters.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.