Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter
This is a book filled with magic; sorcery, necromancy, incantations and conjurations abound. But it is also a story of enduring love. In this second in a series after Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Book One, Apprentice, Hisdadukh, an enchantress known as ‘Dada’, is recently widowed when she meets Rava, a master of the secret Torah, who is destined to become her second husband. In 4th-century Babylonia, after the destruction of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple, Rava and Dada are caught up in court intrigue and rapidly changing times. When Dada discovers that her mother was ‘chief sorceress’, it gives her new motivation to defeat an evil rival and fulfill her mother’s legacy. Becoming increasingly powerful, she is able to glean information from cats and birds, summon Ashmedai, converse with Samael, avert sandstorms and create illusory fire.
Although there is a fascinating story here, it is sometimes hard going because of the abundance of Jewish references which cannot be fathomed from the context. The novel reads much like a textbook at times, and I found my concentration constantly averted whilst I referred to various glossaries and notations. Enchantress is heavily laden with detail and pages of conversation sounding more like people quoting from an encyclopedia than conversing with family or friends. There is a lot to be learned here, however. Rava’s Mishna and Baraita arguments inform the reader of what makes meat kosher, how to brew date beer and conditions which make divorce acceptable. But few of these advance the storyline.
This novel deserves high praise for its meticulous research, creativity and subject interest, but nevertheless I did find the need to constantly renew broken concentration. It made for a less than satisfactory read for someone not versed in Yiddish or in Jewish history.