3 out of 5: I'm not a particularly religious person, and I generally avoid religious fiction on the assumption that I'll be turned off by the religiousness of such books. Nevertheless, something about the description of The Triumph of Deborah—"a strong female leader and prophetess leads her people into battle after being cast off by her husband"—appealed to me. I was intrigued.
This is a biblical story, and readers familiar with Deborah's story will no doubt enjoy Etzioni-Halevy's rich rendering. Being unschooled in biblical matters myself, I had no prior knowledge of this story, but this didn't stop me from being thoroughly entertained. I read this 300+ page book faster and with more anticipation than I've read anything in months. My assumption about religious fiction certainly doesn't apply to Deborah. There's nothing prim, preachy, or judgmental about this book.
In large part, Deborah is an old-fashioned romance novel. There are enough tangled love plots to keep any soap opera fan happy without the explicit (and often repellent) sexual details of more typical contemporary romances. At times, however, the love plots obscure some of this book's other worthy themes (war and peace, feminine independence, monotheism and polytheism). I would've liked to see these other themes given fuller treatment. Another disappointing aspect of Deborah is the somewhat stilted prose. Etzioni-Halevy overuses words like "thereupon," "thus," and "hence" in an apparent attempt to create a biblical tone, but I believe the story would flow smoother without this affectation. Fortunately, after a few chapters, I got into the flow of the language and was able to overlook the outdated phrases. Ultimately, I really enjoyed The Triumph of Deborah and am planning to read Etzioni-Halevy's other two biblical novels (The Garden of Ruth and The Song of Hannah).
On her Amazon blog, Etzioni-Halevy describes Deborah as "a light novel of love and suspense, with a twisting plot, written first and foremost for reading pleasure. A page turner that is yet totally faithful to the Bible." A good description, I think. Take a risk on this one for a quick, entertaining read.