This review originally appeared in Christianity magazine. It is thus quite short!
The latest book from New Testament scholar Paula Gooder is her second work of fiction, and follows the story of Lydia, mentioned only fleetingly in the New Testament (Acts 16 and Philippians).
Drawing on the author’s knowledge of Roman context and culture, Lydia is a gripping historical novel shot through with the language of faith that will resonate with Christian readers. It also includes several plotlines that reward closer reflection. The themes of redemption and forgiveness that are hallmarks of Gooder’s narrative echo the broader narrative of the New Testament.
This book will perhaps irritate those who dislike ‘fan fiction’ imaginings of biblical characters, but Gooder’s knowledge of the New Testament text and context means she avoids factual error.
Indeed, the book includes a substantial notes section, separate to the story, which adds value for those interested in reading more. It also provides sound justification for the author’s decision to use ‘story’ as the vehicle through which to communicate theology.
This is particularly important for female characters and readers, whose stories have traditionally been omitted or understated throughout Church history.
Overall, Lydia brings to life the fascinating world of the early Church in this enjoyable read, which has the added benefit of giving some context to the texts we think we know well.