Jewel of the Nile – Tessa Afshar

Jewel of the Nile Tessa Afshar
Jewel of the Nile by Tessa Afshar
Also by this author: Daughter of Rome, Pearl in the Sand
Published by Tyndale on June 1, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Biblical, Christian, Romance
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Whispered secrets about her parents' past take on new urgency for Chariline as she pays one last visit to the land of her forefathers, the ancient kingdom of Cush.Raised as an orphan by her aunt, Chariline has only been told a few pieces of her parents' tragic love story. Her beautiful dark skin is proof that her father was Cushite, but she knows nothing else. While visiting her grandfather before his retirement as the Roman official in the queen's court, Chariline overhears that her father is still alive, and discovering his identity becomes her obsession. Both her grandfather and the queen have reasons for keeping this secret, however, and forbid her quest. So when her only clues lead to Rome, Chariline sneaks on the ship of a merchant trusted by friends.
Theo is shocked to discover a stowaway on board his vessel and determines to be rid of her as soon as possible. But drawn in by Chariline's story, he feels honor-bound to see her safely to shore, especially when it appears someone may be willing to kill for the truth she seeks.
In this transformative tale of historical fiction, bestselling author Tessa Afshar brings to life the kingdom of Cush and the Roman Empire, introducing readers to a fascinating world filled with gripping adventure, touching romance, and a host of lovable characters--including some they may recognize from the biblical book of Acts.

Chariline has always been different, her caramel skin and dark, curled hair easily identifying her as part Cushite. When she overhears that her birth father is still alive—a fact about which her relatives had lied—she sets out to find him. She believes her journey begins in Rome. And that involves hiding away on a merchant’s ship.  Little does she know how much danger she’ll face, including attempts on her own life.

I have read one other novel by Tessa Afshar called Pearl in the Sand (review here), and I wasn’t its biggest fan. Deciding to give her another chance, I read Jewel of the Nile. I was disappointed at first. Biblical fiction—especially biblical romance—is such a challenging genre. I can’t even put my finger on exactly why I didn’t like it, but something just…didn’t agree with me. I had to labor through the first third of the book. While I understood Chariline’s desire to find her father, I disliked her character. Impatient and headstrong, she put her life on the line too many times. Those older, wiser, and more experienced told her to do otherwise.

Just like Pearl in the Sand, Jewel of the Nile by Tessa Afshar improved in the second half, when the romance blossomed between Theo (the merchant) and Chariline.  I thoroughly enjoyed that element. The characters slowly opened up to each other and faced their emotional scars. Chariline grew from an obstinate girl into a mature woman. Theo learned how to be comfortable with his past and how to allow someone into his heart.

The novel had little snippets of humor that made me laugh aloud, and I loved the cameos by prominent New Testament figures like Philip, Aquila, and Priscilla. Afshar turned them into living, breathing people in my mind versus mere biblical characters. What I liked most about Jewel of the Nile by Tessa Afshar, though: Christ’s central role. At rare times, Afshar grew superfluous, but the messages of God’s faithfulness reminded me of how loving the God is that I serve.

He sees us for our redeemed hearts, not for our scars—for our shame and guilt. Instead, He takes those completely away. And though He may not give us the answers we want, He will always give them. While the romance between Chariline and the too-perfect-in-personality Theo made me happy, God’s romance toward me—how He pursues—ultimately gave me the greatest joy in Jewel of the Nile.

Jewel of the Nile portrays different aspects of God’s love in such a unique way. Paternal love, through Chariline’s search for her own father. Savior love, through the cleansings of past mistakes, past shames. Romantic love, through the relationship between Chariline and Theo—how He longs for His bride.  And spiritual love, through every sermon-like monologue that the characters think and speak.

While not a favorite, Jewel of the Nile is a beautiful story.  My only real regret is that I didn’t read Thief of Corinth and Daughter of Rome first. I had no idea they were related to Jewel of the Nile until I read the “Author’s Note.” Which, by the way, I highly recommend reading, especially in this novel, as Afshar further explains the book’s context. The novel is a perfect portrait of what biblical romance should be—touching, emotional, and heartwarming.