Simon & Schuster, 2011; 500 pages
Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman's novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily 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, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death. Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed. Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier. Shirah, born in Alexandria, 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. All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.I enjoyed The Dovekeepers much more than I expected I would. Before this, I'd only read one other book by Alice Hoffman -- Practical Magic. I liked that one a lot, too, but it was a very different sort of work. I'm not usually attracted to historical fiction dealing with this period or subject matter, so I was surprised at how addictive this was. And even though it's something of a chunkster, I finished it in just a few days -- also unusual for me. This is one I'd definitely recommend.