The descendants of King Solomon’s harem are hunted for their touch: It is as addictive as any drug. Tonight, they have been found.
The two thousand descendants of King Solomon’s ancient harem have the ultimate power of seduction: Their very touch is as addictive as any drug.
But that power comes at a price: Wives die giving birth. They can only bear daughters. They are only fertile until the age of twenty-four.
Hunted for hundreds of generations by men who crave their touch and fear its power, the Wives have kept safe by following three simple rules:
- A Wife shall have no meaningful relationships outside the clan.
- A Wife’s addictive touch may be used only for procreation or to protect the clan.
- A Wife shall sacrifice herself for her daughter at the age of twenty-four.
But tonight, the rules have been broken, and someone must pay.
In the blistering first episode of King Solomon’s Wives, we meet Sumarra on the night she plans to conceive. Instead, she and the other wives find themselves under attack from a group of male hunters, intent on destroying them.
Sumarra has always broken small rules and indulged rebellious tendencies. Now that the Wives have been found, her defiance will either be their salvation or her own undoing.
Berhanu stood taller than his entourage and as big as the man in my memory. He had strong features, dark skin, and a full head of hair cut close to his scalp, a contrast to the disheveled, scruffy-haired man beside him, who I assumed was Ben Torrent. Two security guards walked in front of them, clearing a path, and one behind. Berhanu’s entourage still allowed students close enough to shake his hand. A few asked for autographs. Berhanu and Torrent were suns, orbited by their fans.
My mother confirmed this man looked like the Berhanu she knew. Her memories gave me a steady flow of confidence. This man was magnetic for me as he was for my mother. Light and heat emanated from him. I wished I were standing closer.
Ben Torrent didn’t look familiar at all. Movie-star stubble covered his chin, but his face wasn’t picture-perfect: a dark scar ran across his forehead and down his cheek. I would’ve remembered the scar if I’d ever seen him before.
The newspaper said Torrent and Berhanu were friends, but they didn’t seem chummy now. Torrent kept looking over, and Berhanu kept ignoring him.
The two men shook students’ hands as security herded them toward a limousine parked on St. Thomas Street. One of Berhanu’s people walked ahead and opened the car’s door. The lights came on, and the engines started. Pushing through a swarm of students wouldn’t be as easy as putting myself directly in Berhanu’s path, so I led Bahar toward the car. I positioned us five feet from where Berhanu would have to pass.
Torrent split from the group and headed for a car down the street, while Berhanu shook hands with a few more people and made his way closer to me.
I took a deep breath. Prepared. I flipped my hair over my shoulders. My palms sweat, but that was a good thing. When I shook Berhanu’s hand, I would linger. I would make him notice me, think about me, want me.
“Sumarra,” someone called. I turned. Mina was running toward us from the front plaza, wearing a brightly striped shirt and tight jeans. Her high heels clacked on the concrete. She almost knocked me over as she threw her arms around my neck. “Thank god. Thank god I found you.” Tears smeared her mascara and sweat dampened her clothes. Strands of curly hair had come loose from her ponytail and hung wild around her face.
I set her back. “Go home with Bahar.”
Berhanu was only fifteen feet away now, greeting students as he moved closer.
“Please don’t be angry,” Mina cried. “Please forgive me. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s all right. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
Bahar tried to guide Mina away, but she pulled free. “Listen to me.” Mina threw herself on me again, limp against my shoulders. Her breath smelled of rum. “I need your help and your forgiveness. Please, Sumarra.” When I didn’t hug her back, she slid to her knees and pressed her head into my stomach. Her shoulders heaved with her sobs.
Again Bahar tried to pull Mina from me, but she clutched my waist tightly. Now I was worried. “Mina, what’s going on?”
“He’s gone,” she said. “He’s gone, and I’m afraid.”
He? So, she’d definitely been dating again. “What have you done?”
Security motioned us out of the way, but Mina grabbed my arms and kept me still. Berhanu’s security stood between us and the car.
“Please forgive me,” Mina whimpered. “He was… I didn’t know.”
Berhanu walked right past me, intent on getting to his car. Still, he met my gaze. Maybe I only imagined it, but I thought I saw a hint of recognition, a slight narrowing of the eyes and an almost smile. But how could he know me? The line of Kings descended from Sheba was not cursed, had no special powers from the gods, and wouldn’t know a Wife on sight. They were merely people who carried the blood of a woman we loved and revered.
I tried to wriggle free so I could extend my hand to him, but Mina dug into my skin with her painted nails.
“He was a Hunter,” Mina said.
The word made me focus on her. “Who?”
“Jonah. Jonah Michaels, my boyfriend. And he took my phone,” she said. “He has numbers and Dilara’s address.” She swallowed. “He knows where they are.”
I looked back to Berhanu, who waved at someone before stepping into his car. A woman waited for him in the backseat. She wore a dark suit, dark glasses, and a scarf around her head, as if she were trying to hide her identity. Her features were still distinctive: a sad downturn of her mouth, a soft chin, a slender neck. Berhanu kissed her cheek as he sat by her, and the door closed.
Seeing the woman sent a spark of jealousy through me, but Mina drew my focus back: “Sumarra, Jonah was a Hunter.”
Now I was clutching her, too. “How do you know?”
“I didn’t know at first,” she cried. “He must have had his birthmark removed. He pretended to be addicted, then I figured out he wasn’t. He took my phone, and now he’s gone.”
Bahar finally succeeded in pulling Mina off me. She turned her and took her shoulders. “No, Mina! Tell me you didn’t.”
Mina sobbed too hard to respond.
“We have to warn them,” I said. I took out my phone and dialed Dilara’s number. Waited. “There’s no answer.”
“We’re too late!” Mina screamed.
Holly McDowell lived in Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina before discovering the magical and inspiring city of Chicago. She can be spotted drinking glögg, searching for the world’s best tapas bar and writing in coffee shops all over the windy city. King Solomon’s Wives is her first novel.
Author Q and A
Lisa: I vividly remember reading your submission manuscript and being overcome by the intensity of the Wives’ relationships. They are fighting to survive…but at what cost? Where does a story like this start? What was the seed?
Holly: One theme that’s always fascinated me is the value of safety versus freedom. The women in my story have to follow strict rules to maintain the group’s secrecy and survival, so they can’t tolerate defection, independence or non-conformity.
Of course, every Wife has her own agenda and history. Their individual hopes and dreams can’t really be controlled by a set of rules. That’s where the complicated relationships come from.
Lisa: There are some scenes involving sexuality and violence that are incredibly difficult to read. How hard are they to write?
Holly: You should have seen the scenes I cut out! (Kidding.) They are definitely difficult to write, but my goal is to try to capture at least a glimpse of the emotional reality of such situations. I didn’t want to skim the surface, because I think stories that explore the darker aspects of humanity can help us understand ourselves.
Lisa: I actually felt pain in my chest when Sumarra met the sister who is being punished…How did you come to that storyline?
Holly: Showing the Wives imprisoning each other seemed a natural extension of how people can oppress each other in real life. We’re sometimes guilty of judging each other negatively based on physical appearance, success, parenting skills or the prudence of our life choices. My story exaggerates these judgments and gives them physical consequences.
I also listened to my “leader” character, Dilara, and knew how far she would go to protect her group. She would always put the welfare of the clan above the welfare of one member. She would absolutely insist on punishment for someone who violated the rules, but somehow, her heart is still in the right place, because she’s doing whatever it takes to ensure her clan’s survival.
Lisa: What themes are you most excited about exploring in future episodes? I’m particularly interested in the line between love and addiction – need and want.
Holly: I’m so glad you said that! I’m also hoping to explore that theme. I suspect a woman with an addictive touch might find it difficult to discern the difference between her partner’s obsession and real love.
Lisa: If you were a KSW, what would you be like? I fear that I would be dead already…my comfort with risk is way too high, so I’m pretty sure I would have been doomed centuries ago.
Holly: Hm! A Wife who likes risk is an interesting character concept indeed. I’m going to have to put you into an episode.
This is such a great question, I’m going to start asking all my friends. As for me, I’ve always been a creative type. My Wife character would sneak away often to stir up inspiration, meet interesting people, and maybe go dancing. Then she’d come home and try to express the truth of whatever epiphany she’d had.
Lisa: Who will love this book?
Holly: I’m hoping it will appeal to people who like history brought into the modern world. I was definitely influenced by the writing of a few authors I admire, such as the feminist issue explorations of Margaret Atwood, the romantic, speculative family sagas of Anne Rice, and the historical conspiracy puzzles in a Dan Brown novel.