When I read The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman a few months ago, I felt like I had to tell everyone about it. Taking place in Israel during the first century C.E., it tells the story of the siege of Masada through the eyes of its women. Half the battle is just to get to this fortess, as told by Yael, an assassin's unloved daughter, and Revka, a baker's widow. Romance blooms, and so does rebellion, not just of the Jews against the Romans. Shirah, a woman wise in religious practices not condoned by the priests, tutors Yael in their practice. Aziza, Shirah's daughter, becomes a warrior equal to any man. Revkah tries valiantly to raise her grandsons and coax them into speaking after they have witnessed horrific violence. Tending the doves, these women seem to find reprieve from the unforgiving land and patriarchal culture. But doom in the form of the Roman army is approaching. According to contemporary reports, only two women and three children survived the siege and the terrible choice the Jews made to avoid being overrun and enslaved.
Aside from the magnificent characterizations, Hoffman's other great achievement is atmosphere. You can feel the blasting heat and taste the dust on your tongue. This is helped by the meticulous research Hoffman did for The Dovekeepers. Read it and go tell everyone you know.
Want more? This website has photos of the excavations of Masada