I love Francine Rivers. I love this series. I honestly never tire of it. I can't tell you how many times I've read through this trilogy since my high school days.
This is the story of Hadassah, a first-century Christian Jew who becomes a slave in the home of a prominent Roman family. She is homely and timid, humble in faith. This is an era in which Christians are sent to the arena daily to be killed, and fear is keeping her from sharing her faith with those around her.
The family who buys her as a handmaid consists of four people. Julia is the youngest daughter and Hadassah's charge, spoiled, selfish and manipulative. Marcus is the oldest son, obsessed with earthly pleasures of women, money, and entertainment. Their parents are the mild mannered and gentle Phoebe, and the merchant with high expectations Decimus. The first two books focus on Hadassah and the Valerian family.
Finally, this is the story of Atretes, a German tribal leader captured by Roman troops from his homeland. He fights his captors, fights other men in the Roman arena, and finally fights integrating into Roman society. He is obstinate, stubborn, and loyal to his heritage as a Chatti tribesman. He spirals into despair as his gods fail to deliver him and he feels his old life and identity slip away over the years. His story is told in the first and third books.
Rivers handles the aging of these characters well. I love how believable it is that the girls start out as children and blossom into young women in very individual ways. Each has a spiritual journey that is their own. There is romance and intrigue. There is action and reflection. I still get excited as I read about each of Hadassah and Marcus's interactions and blossoming romance, and I sit on the edge of my seat as Julia spirals further into debauchery and Hadassah pulls her back. I squeal with delight as Atretes' relationship with Rizpah grows in the final book. It's a rare book that can still do that after nine years. (Wow, has it really been nine years since I was a sophomore in high school? Wow...)
Mostly, this series is a story about the power of God. Rivers starts this series with one shy Christian girl and (without giving away the whole story) multiplies the number. The best part is that all of the credit for every impossible thing is given to God. Even though it is a work of fiction, The Mark of the Lion has a way of reminding me that God can take the darkest circumstances and turn them for His glory and our good.
If you haven't read it, do. It's not a difficult read, but it is a very gripping one.