Book Review of Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter by Maggie Anton.

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Fantastic tales of demons and the Evil Eye, magical incantations, and powerful attractions abound in Enchantress, a novel that weaves together Talmudic lore, ancient Jewish magic, and a timeless love story set in fourth-century Babylonia.

One of the most powerful practitioners of these mysterious arts is Rav Hisda’s daughter, whose innate awareness allows her to possess the skills men lack. With her husband, Rava–whose arcane knowledge of the secret Torah enables him to create a “man” out of earth and to resurrect another rabbi from death–the two brave an evil sorceress, Ashmedai the Demon King, and even the Angel of Death in their quest to safeguard their people, even while putting their romance at risk.

The author of the acclaimed Rashi’s Daughters series and the award-winning Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Apprentice has conjured literary magic in the land where “abracadabra” originated. Based on five years of research and populated with characters from the Talmud, Enchantress brings a pivotal era of Jewish and Christian history to life from the perspective of a courageous and passionate woman.

 

This was a difficult novel for me to finish. It shouldn’t take me over 2 weeks to finish a novel. I received an ARC through First to Read from Penguin Group. It is actually the sequel to Apprentice: A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery, but I did not know that until I finished reading and looked up other reviews on Goodreads.

I will start on a positive note and say it was interesting to learn about Talmudic lore and the history of Babylonia. The story is incredibly well researched.

However, I found at times the story would get weighted down with too many discussions or debats on Jeweish laws and customs, especially when the topic was not relevant to the central story. After a while I began to skim those parts.

There was much potential but I felt the focus of the story was slow and often had no direction.

Also I feel the pacing can be summed up well through this quote from page 362:
“That year in Pumbedita before Rava and I became betrothed had felt interminable, yet now it seemed that no sooner did we dismantle one year’s sukkah than it was time to build another.”
Slow beginning with the end often being described in a summary year to year.

There was so much time spent on Hisdadukh and Rava’s courtship and not enough on her sorcery. Training with her mother would have been cool to see. I mean the title is Enchantress after all.

The end battle was anti-climatic because the rivalry with the evil sorceress, Zafnat, was incredibly underdeveloped. Her presence in the story happens less than a handful of times.

The family dynamics were well developed. There were some humorous parts as well.

I did like Hisdadukh very much. She was strong, intelligent, could hold her own in difficult situations and was independently wealthy from her husband. I also liked that Rava was a supportive husband. He had his issues with his ego, and sometimes I would roll my eyes, but he wasn’t a bad guy. They were two people I would root for.

Ultimately, it was too slow to develop and I often felt uninspired to continue. I kept waiting for Zafnat to evoke the Evil Eye and create many conflicts directly toward Hisdadukh. (Even Ashmedai the Demon King was boring.) Instead it felt very much like reading a day by day, or a year by year diary.

2.5 out of 5 Incantation Bowls. 

I do like the book cover. I think it is so pretty.

London Day 2 – Saturday, August 16, 2014

Itinerary: The London Eye, The Crucible, and dinner with Lee Pace, Anna Friel, and David Thewlis!

This was a very exciting, unforgettable day.

We got a late start (11am) so we skipped the Banqueting House (saved it for another day) and went to the London Eye.

Daniela has a fear of heights, therefore ferris wheels are not ideal. I have a lesser fear of heights. I do fine if the space is enclosed. An open ferris wheel, like the ones they have at small fairs, is a definite no for me.

Daniela thought to go to the London Aquarium instead, but it was about £25, I think, and an hour and half wait. After seeing that the pods were enclosed and that the wheel kept moving she decided to come on with us. She was fine on the ride. She sat on the middle bench and looked across the skyline. Though she did say that the people next to her were coming up with theories of how the wheel can malfunction. Not something one wants to hear when they have a fear of falling from great heights.

Our late start meant we had to do the fast pass, about a 20 minute wait, versus the regular pass, which had a time slot for the queue at 1:30. The Crucible started at 2:30.

We were in the Lilian Baylis Circle of the Old Vic Theatre. It’s the third mezzanine up. We were warned when we bought the tickets that the rail would be in our eye line, but our view was not blocked. Victoria and I even brought binoculars with us.

I loved The Crucible. It was three hours, with an intermission, but I was entranced the whole time. I especially could not take my eyes off of Richard Armitage.

My friends Stefan and Daniela did fall asleep. Stefan said the incense made him sleepy. That was added for effect since people were burned in Salem. Also, it was our second day in London so there was the jet lag too. We didn’t think about that when we bought the tickets in advance.

The play was intense, but there were some moments of humor to break up the seriousness. Every actor was outstanding and I cannot imagine how they kept their voices night after night. Especially Richard.

Richard was just brilliant as John Proctor. John is a flawed man and while he is not angel, he does feel guilty and wants to atone for his sin.

There is a scene at the end when John Proctor is about to be executed and he is kissing his wife goodbye. Anna Madeley, who plays Elizabeth Proctor, is one lucky lady. Their last kiss was long and deep. To be in her shoes…(sigh).

Abigail Williams is vengeful sociopath. She will kill the whole town through false accusations to get what she wants. Samantha Colley played her perfectly. I’m going to keep an eye out for what she does next. The Crucible is her professional stage debut. She trained at The Oxford School of Drama.

Reverend Parris, I wanted to strangle that a-hole. I could feel myself having to hold back commentary when he spoke.

The staging was perfect. It was in a circle with the actors also bringing in the set props. With it set up this way you see the audience all around, thus it is like looking in a mirror and seeing your own sins.

I think a moment was omitted. Victoria was telling me that she read on Tumblr that there was a moment when John Proctor throws a Bible. One night Richard missed his mark and hit a woman in the face. He was supposed to throw it down the aisle. After the performance he apologized to her. When we saw the play John Proctor never threw a Bible.

I had not read The Crucible since high school and I had forgotten many details, but as I was watching the play some of the important ones came back in a flash. Such as when Mary gives Elizabeth the poppet as a gift. I gasped because I remembered that it was a trick and she would be accused of witchcraft. I then also remembered Elizabeth’s life was spared because she was pregnant.
(A similar thing happened with another Arthur Miller play, Death of a Salesman, when I saw that on Broadway with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield. Again old memories of details came back to me, the mistress’s stockings and the hose tied to the gas found in the basement.)

The Crucible was a fantastic play and I am happy that digital theatre has filmed a performance this past week so I can see it again. I recommend that you download it when it is available or see it in cinemas when it comes to your city.

5 out 5 poppets. 

At first I wasn’t sure I would write about this, but then Anna Friel posted photos on her Instagram here, here, and here, so I am going to tell my story.

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London, England – Friday, August 15, 2014

Itinerary: Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, Trafalger Square, Piccadilly Circus, Shaftesbury Ave, and Charing Cross Road.
I went on a wonderful trip this summer to a place I have always wanted to visit, London! My sister and I started planning two years ago by telling our friends this would be the year we’d go and anyone who wanted to come along was welcome to join us.

Last October when I started doing some research and seeing who was still interested in going we were a total of 10 people. By January when we booked we were four. Some friends had to drop out because of different circumstances.

Sister and I started by making a list of what we wanted to see. I broke it up by neighborhood, and then I made mock itineraries to see how many days would be efficient and affordable. We still didn’t get everything on the list done, but we did bloody well!

So the 4 of us (Sister and our two friends, S and D) agreed on 10 days and then decided on a time in August that worked best for everyone.

We left the evening of August 14th and arrived very early in the morning of August 15th.

First off, what is with having to check myself in at a kiosk at Newark? I paid a lot of money for this flight and I am on vacation. Cater to me! This is not my job, it is the job of the people who work in the airport. There should be a human being behind a counter doing all this: checking me in, checking my passport, weighting and tagging my luggage. Why am I doing this? These kiosks are more trouble than they are worth because they quit in the middle of session our session and then an airport employee had to come over and help us anyway. Unbelievable.

So the flight was uneventful, which is good.
We landed later than we were scheduled. Which is fine because the airport pickup service I arranged would take that into account and therefore we would not be charged for the driver’s waiting time. When he was 10 minutes late we called the company to let them know he had not arrived. They said he’d be where we were waiting in 3 minutes. Our driver was a total of 25 minutes late.

The rest of the day was smooth sailing. We checked into Double Tree Hilton. They give you a warm chocolate chip cookie when you check in. The room was nice and clean, and comes with a desktop computer. I love that.

After we were settled we stared touring. We were a 5 minute walking distance from Westminster Abbey. We took the scenic route through Victoria Gardens, taking lots of photos of the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben.

We went inside Westminster Abbey to take the tour. Sister and I did so in May 2013. They don’t allow photos, but I didn’t care this time and I snuck a few. I took Elizabeth I and Mary I tombs and the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots. 

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