Lilah loves Antinoes, the famous Persian warrior, but will not marry him without the consent of her brother, Ezra. Ezra, a scholar of the Laws of Moses, will not allow her to wed a non-Jew. Forced to choose between her love and her family, Lilah devotes herself to her brother’s calling to lead the Jews out of their home of Susa to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Once rebuilding has begun, Ezra becomes more and more orthodox in his strict adherence to Jewish law and eventually decrees that any foreign-born wife of a Jewish man must leave Jerusalem. Rebelling against her brother’s fanaticism, Lilah leaves the city with the expelled wives and tells the story of what happened to them after banishment.
Halter writes deftly and passionately about Lilah’s love for Antinoes but seems to understand little of why she would ultimately choose to follow her brother to Jerusalem rather than stay with her Persian husband. I didn’t understand that choice, either, because Ezra, as Halter has portrayed him, is nothing but nasty to her for nearly the whole 300 pages. The love story, which takes up about three-fourths of the book, is well worth reading for historical romance fans, but once the Jews are on the road to Jerusalem, Halter seems too constrained by Biblical verse to inject much life into the rest of the story. The back cover blurb makes much of Lilah being the first woman in the Bible to speak out again religious extremism. Speak out she does, but no one listens, which makes for a lackluster and disappointing ending.