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David Shaw
The Plagues of Pharaoh ISBN 978-1-64719-554-0
David Shaw, author
The Plagues of Pharaoh is a clever and thought-provoking retelling of the story of Passover. Witness the plagues and the tragic results through the eyes of Hannu, a high-ranking minister of Egypt, who watches this seeming war of wills between Pharoah and Moses. As each plague plunges his nation deeper into disaster, Hannu realizes that the arrogant god-king of Egypt cannot help his people against the God of Moses and is led to desperate acts of courage, faith and humility.
“What can a mortal say to a god-king?” asks Hannu, an Egyptian vizier and father who recognizes that the flies, frogs, and literal blood baths his nation is suffering come from the Hebrew God of Moses, that slave of “stuttering arrogance” who dares to make demands of the immortal Pharaoh. Pharoah refuses those demands—that he allow his Hebrew slaves to worship for three days in the desert—and, as in all tellings of this tale, hardens his heart, makes his slaves’ lives worse, and further angers Moses’s god. Hannu is desperate to change Pharaoh’s mind, but knows it’s unlikely that the counsel of a mere mortal, untouched by the divine, will prove persuasive. The plagues will get worse, and Egypt will face profound loss and horror—especially after Moses foretells the firstborn sons of Egypt will die.

Hannu, a father himself, will discover that saving his son, Paneb, and all of the others demands ritual sacrifice—and an end to the abuse of the Hebrews. Convincing Pharoah to allow this will prove a tall order, one of many epochal challenges facing the vizier in Shaw’s crisp, swift telling of key passages of Exodus. Hannu’s perspective adds fresh drama and dimension to this familiar—and always mysterious—tale, as Shaw dramatizes the court politics and the harrowing plagues of the Old Testament God but also the interior drama of seeing one’s beliefs challenged by new evidence.

The Plagues of Pharaoh is a quick, inviting read, opening with a dramatic scene of Moses confronting Pharaoh and surging on from there, paying welcome attention to ancient Egyptians’ understanding of the world. Hannu’s first real, up-close encounter with the Hebrews and their beliefs is a standout scene, but Shaw’s interest in cultural clashes and the dawn of monotheism never slows down the narrative, which speeds ahead like the novel’s chariots toward an apocalyptic chase and an angry sea.

Takeaway: This brisk retelling of the plagues of Egypt imagines a vizier who strives to make Pharoah see reason.

Great for fans of: Sholem Asch’s Moses, Howard Fast’s Moses.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A