In about 70, C.E., the Romans were stomping their way through Judea – burning Temples, slaughtering towns, and forcing Jews to take to the desert. A few hundred made their way to the mountain fortress, Masada, a great stronghold built a century before by King Herod. There, they are protected by a rebel group called the Sicarii. Among them are four incredible women – Jael, the daughter and sister of great warriors, and who is blamed by her father for her mother’s death; Revka, a baker’s widow, who is doing everything she can to care for her grandsons; Aziza, who was raised as a boy and trained to fight by one of the great Moab warriors; and Shirah, a woman raised on magic and mysticism. They all work in the dovecotes, caring for the birds who provide for the fortress in many ways.
The book is split into quarters, with each character telling her story as time passes. Jael takes us from her escape from Jerusalem through months surviving the desert to her arrival at Masada. Revka’s tale shows the beginning of the end and the women’s relationship with a captured Roman slave, as well as how she and the remaining members of her family came to the fortress. Aziza tells us how she was brought up to be a warrior and her daring choice to take her brother’s place among the Sicarii fighters. Shirah brings us to the final Roman siege and the decisions that led to only two women and four children surviving.
Based on the stories of Jewish historian, Josephus, author Alice Hoffman spent five years researching this book. She takes her usual themes of strong women and magic, and puts them on a grand stage. The book is dense and difficult in places, but a worthy read that will send you on a Wikipedia spiral afterwards.