By Ann Burton
Abigail is another semi-anonymous woman from the Bible, found in the pages of 1 Samuel. (Read the NIV translation here.) While David is on the run from King Saul with his army he asks a wealthy man named Nabal for provisions; Nabal refuses. David is infuriated and decides to attack in retaliation; it is only the quick thinking of Nabal’s wife Abigail that saves the household. She rushes to David armed with gifts and soothing words, begging him to spare them not because her husband’s house is good or worthy but because a man so close to God, as David is, would not something so petty on his glorious record. David is so taken by her wise words (and smoldering good looks; Abigail is described as beautiful) he calls off his soldiers, and when Nabal dies ten days later (most mysteriously…) he marries Abigail.
I believe Abigail’s Story is meant to be the first book in Ann Burton’s Women of the Bible series, but chronologically she comes after Rahab, Deborah and Jael. Since we know so little about these women, Burton has far more creative license than, say, a historical fiction writer working on a book about Anne Boleyn or Marie Antoinette. So in her version of the story, Abigail becomes a girl whose family has fallen on hard times. When her brother incurs a debt her family can never hope to repay, Abigail offers herself to Nabal as a wife instead. After quite a bit of bargaining, Nabal eventually accepts. After a single night of marriage (that the two of them fail to consummate) Abigail is shipped off to a distant hut to inventory Nabal’s flocks of sheep. She has quite a challenge ahead of her: her husband hates her, her servant dislikes her, the shepherds are hostile, she doesn’t know how to do the task at hand, and there are thieves, angry soldiers and wild animals everywhere.
Abigail is a bit too good to be true. I mean, yes she is a character from a Bible but that hardly means she’s going to be perfect. But Abigail is portrayed as a sweet, kind woman that everybody loves (except for her brute of her husband) because she’s so thoughtful and good-hearted. Fine. Burton also mentions several times that Abigail is plain, nothing special to look at; that seems at odds with the Bible’s proclamation that she’s beautiful, praise the Bibles’ authors rarely bestow. She’s a virgin, because the marriage is unconsummated, so when she accidentally meets David and falls in love she’ll be untouched by another man. (Never mind that David has at least two other wives; these are not mentioned in Burton’s story. I bet Abigail’s in for a surprise.)
The book also has a few scenes of bodice-ripper-worthy romantic almost-couplings (it’s a Christian book, after all) and cheesy dialogue. But the minor characters are interesting; Abigail’s sweetness is contrasted nicely with the acid tongue of her servant and the dry wit of Bethel, the wife of the shepherd in charge of the whole sheep-watching enterprise. If I had read these books in the intended order, and picked up Abigail’s Story first, I definitely would not have continued on to the rest of the series. It’s a fast read but it’s not good, and I don’t feel it captured the Abigail of the Bible.