I am delighted today to chat with the fabulous Tessa Afshar about her new novel, The Peasant King!
Tessa Afshar is an award-winning author of biblical and inspirational historical fiction. She holds a Master of Divinity from Yale University, where she served as cochair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. After working in women’s ministry for nearly twenty years, Tessa became a full-time writer and speaker. Tessa and her husband live in New England, where they proudly tend their mediocre garden. Connect with Tessa at her website.
THE PEASANT KING by Tessa Afshar
GENRE: Historical/Biblical Romance (Christian)
PUBLISHER: Tyndale House
RELEASE DATE: November 7, 2023
Jemmah has always thought of herself as perfectly ordinary . . . until she faces extraordinary circumstances.
When her mother, the Persian king’s famous senior scribe, is kidnapped, Jemmah and her sister must sneak undetected into enemy territory to rescue her. But infiltrating their adversary’s lands proves easier than escaping them. Fleeing through dangerous mountain passes, their survival depends on the skills of a stranger they free from prison: a mysterious prince named Asher.
Asher is not who the world believes he is. Despite his royal blood, he has had to climb his way out of poverty to forge success from nothing. A manufacturer of some of the best weaponry in the East, Asher has only one goal: to destroy his father. But following his escape from prison, Asher is irresistibly drawn to Jemmah, unaware that she guards her own secret.
Jemmah must convince Asher to give up everything he has worked for, all for the sake of a higher purpose he’s not sure he believes in. The fate of the Persian empire—and possibly the Judean people—hang in the balance and in the persuasive power of one ordinary woman.
Bestselling author Tessa Afshar delivers another adventurous novel filled with romance and imagination, reminding readers of what Publishers Weekly calls her “amazing talent for packing action and intrigue into the biblical setting for modern readers.”
Hi dear Tessa! Welcome back to the blog!
Q: What is fun and/or challenging about writing romances in ancient settings?
Tessa: What I appreciate about this setting is that it allows for the old-fashioned romantic feel that I love. The ancient world lacks some of the annoying complications of modern life. The challenge is in creating period-appropriate scenarios where the hero and heroine can find time to be alone!
Carrie: i hadn’t thought of that lol – i bet that does get to be challenging at times!
Q: In The Peasant King, your protagonist, Jemmah, thinks of herself as unexceptional. Why do you think many of us feel we are too ordinary to be used by God in big ways?
Tessa: On the one hand, we really are ordinary. We are the girl next door, the average student, the run-of-the-mill mother, the regular Joe. The mirror shows us an ordinary face with an ordinary mind and an ordinary body. It’s easy to stop your story there. To see that much and no more. And to conclude that God needs someone more extraordinary to accomplish anything important. The problem is that when we think that way, we utterly miss the spectacular reality that God has made us in his own image. More astounding still, through Christ, the Spirit of God dwells in us (Romans 8:11). This means that as followers of Jesus, no one is ordinary.
I think God’s view of who is extraordinary is radically different from ours. The Father looks for obedience, for love, for patience, for faith. These are the qualities that make us more like Jesus, and therefore, extraordinary.
Carrie: oh i love that – yes! Amen.
Q: Let’s talk about the book’s hero! What ideas or inspiration helped you create Asher? What is he struggling with internally when the novel opens?
Tessa: One of my favorite historical novels, The Scarlet Pimpernel, is the story of an English lord who pretends to be a fop while rescuing aristocrats from the guillotine during the French Revolution. When we first meet Asher, he is a bit of a Scarlet Pimpernel. A man wrapped in a disguise. But the disguise is quickly blown, and readers meet the real Asher.
Asher has grown up the son of a slave. His mother, a Judean captive, was sold to a nomadic tribe in Media where Asher grew up. In the absence of a father, young Asher did his best to protect his mother from back-breaking work and hunger. But watching her grow steadily weaker, he finally asked his royal father for help, which was refused. Asher had to watch his beloved mother die in poverty, a wound that festers and drives him. As a wealthy man, that old hurt still directs his life. In a sense, this is a Beauty and the Beast kind of story. Jemmah’s love and her family’s grace help Asher find his true self.
Carrie: oooo you had me at ‘Beauty and the Beast’ 🙂
Q: I’ve heard that The Peasant King is connected to your last release. What characters from The Hidden Prince do we meet again in this novel?
Tessa: Twenty years have passed since the events in The Hidden Prince, and now our main character is Keren and Jared’s daughter, Jemmah. Keren and Jared do show up as important support characters in The Peasant King. The boy who was “the hidden prince” is all grown up and has become “the peasant king.” He is still friends with Harpagus, just as Daniel and Mahlah remain close to Keren and her daughter, Jemmah. I hope readers will enjoy seeing all these characters again and discovering where they are twenty years later.
Carrie: oh yay!!
Q: There is a thread involving Old Testament prophecy in The Peasant King. Could you tell us about that and why you were interested in this topic?
Tessa: While Persia was still a relatively small country, Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem and the Temple would one day be rebuilt with the help of a Persian king. This is a shocking prophecy on many levels. For one, the deliverer of God’s people would be a Gentile. He is the only Gentile to whom God refers as his anointed one (Isaiah 45:1-3). Also, at the time of this prophecy, Persia was a minor nation, itself under the rule of the Medes. There was no way it had the power to rescue anyone. It would be a little like in WWII, if instead of the US coming to the aid of the Allies, the Bahamas had come to the rescue. It just wouldn’t have had the same impact. At the time the prophecies were given, the Persians simply did not possess the power needed to defeat Babylon.
In a later prophecy, Jeremiah predicted that the kings of Media would be the ones to destroy Babylon. In other words, the Gentile king named by Isaiah would one day rule the Medes. He had to first defeat the powerful nation of Media before he could even set his sights on Babylon.
As I studied history, I realized how many miracles God had to work in order for this part of the prophecy to be fulfilled, in order for the Persian king named in Isaiah to become the ruler of Media. It gave me a deeper appreciation of God’s influence, power, and protection over nations as well as individuals throughout time.
This was the story I had to tell, because I found it incredibly encouraging. It doesn’t matter how impossible the circumstances; God will find a way!
Carrie: in the current state of our world and our own country, I find this so comforting! He is so faithful & He is on the throne ♥
Q: What are some other key Scripture passages that inspired The Peasant King?
Tessa: In addition to the prophetic verses I used from Isaiah 45:4-5, Isaiah 44:24, 28, and Jeremiah 51:11, one verse captured what is a central theme in this novel. When Israel was about to begin its conquest of the Promised Land, Moses told them that God would drive the nations out little by little, rather than all at once (Deuteronomy 7:22). Often, we find this to be the case in our own lives. God’s transformations and impartations come little by little. They are a process rather than instant cures. Jemmah, who struggles with a painful situation, is learning to navigate God’s little-by-little grace rather than the all-at-once her heart desires.
Carrie: ohhh the waiting is hard sometimes; I can sympathize with Jemmah! But God’s perfect timing is always worth the wait – and never wasted!
Q: What did you learn while writing The Peasant King?
Tessa: My research reminded me that the will of God in this world is opposed. The plans of God will meet resistance. Every heavenly promise has an obstruction. But our Father is the God of the impossible. In studying secular history alongside biblical promise, I was astounded by the way God broke through every barrier to fulfill his plan. And he is still doing that today!
Carrie: amen & amen!
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from The Peasant King?
Tessa: I hope readers will remember that sometimes God sends us his breakthroughs in little by-little increments and feel encouraged even if the fulfillment of their desires has tarried. Sometimes, when we think we are too ordinary to matter, or too broken to be of much use, God looks at us and sees the most extraordinary person. To God, our most powerful gifting isn’t what we look like or how smart we are, or how many degrees we have. From his perspective, the most extraordinary gifting on earth is the ability and willingness to love generously.
Carrie: i love that!
Tyndale House is offering a print copy of The Peasant King by Tessa Afshar to one of my readers! (US only. Void where prohibited by law or logistics.) This giveaway is subject to Reading Is My SuperPower’s giveaway policies which can be found here. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below.
What about you? What makes you want to read The Peasant King by Tessa Afshar?