Those familiar with the Book of Mormon will also be familiar with the story of Ammon. One of the sons of King Mosiah, he with Alma the Younger and several others sought to destroy the church of God, until the fateful day that Alma was visited by an angel and he was brought to repentance. Later, rather than inherit and rule over the kingdom of their father, Ammon and his brothers brought the gospel to the Lamanites.
In the land of Ishmael, Ammon quickly gained favor with King Lamoni. You may recall the verses in Alma 17 in which Ammon declared his intention to dwell with Lamoni’s people. In fact, in verses 24 and 25 we read that Lamoni “would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife. But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant.”
It is here that the Sariah S. Wilson’s novel Servant to a King begins, with a different perspective than most of us may have considered before. Isabel is the eldest daughter of King Lamoni, and it is she who is ceremonially offered to this Nephite to be his wife. We see her anxiety over her father promising her to a stranger—a Nephite, albeit a handsome one—and then we see her indignation as this man turns her down in order to work as a common servant. Does he really think that life as a servant would be preferable to life with her? (I mean, think about it. No matter how much you didn't want to be married off to a stranger, wouldn't you feel insulted if he decided he'd rather be a servant than married to you?)
At first Isabel is convinced that Ammon must be a spy, and tries to catch him at his own game. However, despite the fact that Ammon turned down Lamoni’s original offer of marriage to Isabel, the attraction between Ammon and Isabel quickly becomes undeniable. (I told you she thought he was good-looking.) But in the meantime, Isabel’s evil cousin Mahlon has received the blessing of her grandfather, King Laman—Lamoni’s father—to ask for (or Mahlon’s interpretation: demand) Isabel’s hand in marriage as a part of his grand scheme to take over Lamoni’s kingdom. With the help of her handmaid and confidante Abish (maybe you see where this is going now, if you didn’t already), Isabel works her way through her emotions and the necessities of her circumstances—and is still taken by surprise during the events that follow.
Servant to a King is a fun story with a unique perspective. It manages not to take itself too seriously, yet still conveys the spirituality of the amazing events that occurred at the waters of Sebus and beyond. It is more of a light romantic novel than a it is a historical or didactic piece. There are of course historical elements (the whole thing is set in ancient America, for starters), but it's not one of those heavy books that are intended more to teach the reader about the people involved than to tell them a good story. And it’s great to see these familiar characters portrayed as normal people with insecurities and senses of humor, rather than the almost godlike heroes we often see in our historical fiction. The older I get (and I'm not that old yet), the more I think that these great people we read about in the scriptures who showed such faith and obedience must have been more like us than we realize. They just managed to rise above their weaknesses. And despite the fact that this book doesn't seem like one that was particularly meant to teach us anything, I really did come away from it with a new appreciation for Ammon, his brothers, and for King Lamoni and his family and those other things (whatever they were) that must have gone on that went unrecorded in our scriptures.
While the work does not appear to be a scholarly one, and there aren’t any citations or sources listed, it is clear that Sariah Wilson has researched the cultures of the area of that time period. And she ties the familiar Book of Mormon events together and fills in the missing information in interesting and logical ways. Readers who enjoy faith-promoting LDS romances will enjoy this one, particularly those who are looking for something just a little different. There are many inspirational stories in the LDS canon, but few as awe-inspiring as the conversion of the Lamanites.
Servant to a King was published in 2008 by Covenant Communications. A version of this review appeared on AML-List.