In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic historical event, Hoffman weaves a spellbinding tale of four extraordinary, bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the horrifically brutal murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her twin grandsons, rendered mute by their own witness. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman, who finds passion with another soldier. Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power. The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege, as the Romans draw near. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets—about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
How can I even begin to put into words the beauty and magic which fill the pages of Alice Hoffman's newest novel, The Dovekeepers? Through her characters Hoffman brought the history and tragedy of Masada to life. I was captivated from page one, almost as if I had been placed under a spell by Shirah herself (one of the main characters who is known as a witch). Through the narration of the four women, I became emotionally invested in the novel, almost as if I was experiencing their personal struggles and triumphs with them.
There were many things that I loved about The Dovekeepers, the main thing being the plot. Having heard about Masada before reading the novel, I was curious about how Hoffman would represent this historic event. While I anticpated something fascinating, The Dovekeepers surpassed my wildest expectations through its level of detail and the interweaving of the various characters' background stories. While the novel itself is not by any means a fast read, it continually kept me interested and hanging on to find out what happened next. In fact, The Dovekeepers is not a book that is meant to be devoured quickly, but savoured slowly so that the reader can enjoy the imagery, magic, and enchantment which it presents.
Another thing I loved about this novel was its characters. Each of the four women, Yael, Revka, Aziza, and Shirah is unique and interesting for their own reasons. While each of these women came from various backgrounds and situations, they all shared one thing in common: a vibrant spirit which refused to be broken. Out of the four, however, Yael and Aziza's narration quickly became my favourite, and I was left wanting to hear more from them as the novel went on.
Overall, I would highly recommend The Dovekeepers to readers who enjoy either historical fiction, or are simply looking for a unique story to read. I fell in love with this novel, and it is definitely going to be added to my list of favourite books. Those who have read and enjoyed Anita Diamont's novel The Red Tent will surely fall in love with The Dovekeepers as well. The magic of this novel is hard to resist.