Adira—daughter of Zakiti, a caravan chief relative of Abram—is fifteen years old and all her life she has posed as a boy in front of her people based on a promise her father made to Adira’s dying mother. Already on the brink of womanhood, her way of life seems in jeopardy because Sarai, Abram’s wife, who knows their secret, wants to arrange a suitable marriage for Adira with Zakiti’s consent.
Meanwhile, three giant strangers have joined the caravan. It is rumored they are El’s angels who bring tidings for Abram and Sarai. Adira falls in love with one of the strangers, but when desert people kill her father and kidnap her beloved, she will leave the safety she knows to avenge her father and rescue El’s angel. In her quest, she will cross the desert and will arrive at the very gates of Babylon. Little does she know that through twists of fate she will end up becoming Lot’s wife and the famous pillar of salt on her escape from the burning city of Sodom.
I have quite a history with Angels at the Gate. I started reading it for the first time in June because that was when I promised its marketing team that I would publish my review. I remember back then that I was liking it but I put it aside because I had read several historical fiction novels until that point in the year and I was making little progress. Since then I have restarted four times without success until the two preceding thrillers I just read cleaned my palate well enough to crave something different, and the fifth time was the charm.
The trouble I initially had with Angels at the Gate seemed to stem from a marketing mistake, in my opinion. It was billed as "if you liked The Red Tent you will like Angels at the Gate". You know how in families there are two beautiful siblings but one seems to garner all the attention while the other suffers in comparison? It is that way with The Red Tent and Angels at the Gate. I loved The Red Tent; I discovered with it the profound mystery of femininity, something most women take for granted. That was the greatest accomplishment of Anita Diamant.
Angels at the Gate is absorbing, a page-turner. It reads like an ancient text and benefits from a rich and complex biblical tableau, but the similarities with The Red Tent end there. Angels at the Gate is its own story. It starts with the story of Adira passing off as a young boy traveling with her father's caravan through the edge of the known ancient world, and ends up becoming a tale of tenacity and unspeakable tragedy. The fact that things didn't get necessarily better after she got married anchors the story in a reality that I can easily understand.
The Red Tent can be classified as historical fiction or alternative history, but Angels at the Gate is more of a fictional novel developed over a rich historical setting that works very well.
What I learned: the cult of El didn't turn monotheistic from the beginning. Throughout the ancient world the goddess was venerated in several forms, under different names, such as Asherah, consort of the god Baal, as known in Canaan, and Ishtar, as she was known in Babylonia.
What bothered me to no end: the depiction of Mika-el the archangel as a healer and of Raph-el as a warrior when it is the opposite; once I learned to ignore that, I could enjoy my reading experience.
In summary, Angels at the Gate deserves the status of bestseller as The Red Tent. It is a minor sibling but it should be recognized on its own merits.
DISCLAIMER: I received from the marketing team a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.