2018 Reviews · Book club · historical fiction · Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday Book Review: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman


Welcome to a weekly post, Throwback Thursday. This weekly book review post is a way to share some old favourites, books that were published over a year ago and most importantly those books that have been languishing on the to be read pile for far too long!

In the year 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against the Roman army in the dovekeepers smallancient Israel. Only two women and five children survived.
Based on this tragic event, Alice Hoffman weaves a spellbinding story about the lives of four bold and remarkable women during desperate days of the siege of Masada, when supplies are dwindling and the Romans are drawing near.
Yael is the assassin’s daughter, Revka’s life has been torn apart by the Romans, Aziza has been raised as a warrior and Shirah is wise in the ways of ancient magic. All are dovekeepers, and all are keepers of secrets – about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.


The Dovekeepers, published in 2011, is the first historical fiction tale written by Alice Hoffman, of Practical Magic fame. Prolific author Toni Morrison describes The Dovekeepers as ‘A major contribution to 21st century literature’. The Dovekeepers is ambitious and it certainly has an important role in educating the audience about the plight of nine hundred Jews that converged on the mountain region of Masada to escape the Roman army in 70 CE. It is a towering tale that treads the line between both mystical and stirring.

The Dovekeepers is a narrative split into the individual stories of four brave women that defined time and place, Masada in 70 AD. Hoffman presents each story separately, so each woman exposes their  secrets and plight. This first person style of narration really allows the reader to get into the finer details of the story at hand and it is a complex one at that. The book itself, perhaps due to the subject matter, weighs in at the five hundred page mark. This is a heavy account of set of events I readily admit to possessing no prior knowledge. So The Dovekeepers proved to be quite the history lesson in the form of narrative.

Hoffman is the master of research, this cannot be criticised. She has obviously devoted much time and energy into pouring the historical details into this novel. The end result is one that I felt educated me about a pivotal point in our ancient history books. Hoffman succeeds in imparting information about the practices, culture, faith, period detail and language of this time.

Hoffman is well known for her magic, mysticism, symbolism and rituals through her previous books. These themes do run through The Dovekeepers. However, Hoffman also covers a fair bit of ground on faith, religion, love, tradition and fate. If you are aware of the turn of events that this book is based on you will know that sorrow and despair follows. However, this is interchanged with the loyalty and strength that defines the very core of what happened in Masada in times past.

Hoffman’s characterisation is divided and it shifts between the four different female narrators. Each has their own fraught journey to Masada which is interesting to uncover. While I did feel a sense of empathy towards these women and their circumstances, ultimately it was hard to connect fully to their stories. Hoffman works hard to earn our appreciation for these women, but in the end I felt a bit lost.

The Dovekeepers was a selection for my book club this month. If I hadn’t heard so many good things about this book and for the fact that it was a book club read, I dare say I may have abandoned it. I did persist with this one until the end as I wanted to join in with the book club discussion that followed! Whilst I can see its positive points, mainly in its historical value, it didn’t capture this reader’s heart.

The Dovekeepers is based on a fascinating true chapter in our history books and is best directed to fans of ancient history, faith and mysticism.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman  was published by Simon & Schuster. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

Learn more about the author of The Dovekeepers, Alice Hoffman here.


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