Gollancz, h/b, Â£14.99
Reviewed by Rebekah Lunt
Itâ€™s difficult to know where to start with this novel. There is just so much of it on every level, and so many things I want to say about it, that itâ€™s easy to end up speechless. But that wouldnâ€™t make a good review, and thatâ€™s the very least this book deserves.
Iâ€™ll start with the writing team, the Careys, who are a family â€“ each with authorial records of their own. I must admit I hadnâ€™t read any of Linda or Louiseâ€™s work before this but will be remedying that very soon! Iâ€™ve consistently enjoyed Mikeâ€™s output though, so I gave the book a chance, even though it didnâ€™t appear to be the kind of story Iâ€™d normally go for. I was intrigued by the team of writers, and even more so that they are family. I wondered if they would be able to maintain a coherent and authentic authorial voice over such a large text, and whether it would be easy to spot where each separate writer had taken the lead.
As it turned out, I was in awe at the flow of this book! Except for a slight perceived slip in the tone near the start of the book, the narrative, voices, different stories, all blend together so beautifully it is impossible to see the join. This book has so many voices and at the same time, only one. Every single character is completely convincing and real and utterly engaging. The story is an incredibly sumptuous puzzle box of individual stories; each piece falls into place perfectly with exactly the right tone.
I have tried to decide, over and over, who is my favourite character, and failed every time â€“ simply because each voice is essential to the harmony of the whole. Even the villains are so incredibly engaging and complex â€“ sometimes in their simplicity â€“ that it would be hard to pick out the â€˜bestâ€™ characterâ€¦. Although Remâ€¦ I have a massive admiration for that character as it would have been so easy to get her wrong, but she is perfect and beautiful and I have a huge soft spot for her. But there are so many other characters that in any other book, and alone without the others, they would have been my favourite. That is the great strength of this book â€“ each aspect is fundamental to the whole. The Careys are indivisible as a voice: it is clear that this team has done essentially the same work as the women (and men) in the story, to enable each voice to be heard, to be woven together, to allow sensitivities to be expressed, to become something greater through combined effort.
In case you hadnâ€™t guessed by now, I absolutely love this book! As I said, it isnâ€™t in my usual genre of choice â€“ â€˜Arabian Nightsâ€™-style-tales were indicated by the cover and blurb â€“ but I am so glad I read it. The story is basically that of the harem of a sultan who, when the sultan is overthrown, are sent away as a gift to the sultan of another city. There is a strong fantasy element with supernatural powers being present in the storyline, as well as the Djinni who become involved in the womenâ€™s tale. Due to my own initial bias it took me a few pages to get into the book, but when I did, it really grabbed hold of me.
I can give it no higher compliment than to say that whilst at the end I wanted more and more to be squeezed out of the stories and lives, I was also very satisfied with the resolution to the stories â€“ it felt very complete in a real-life sense. I would love to know more about everything encompassed within the book, as well as the writing processes that went into it. If you want to read something that is really worth the time spent on it, please pick up this book â€“ it really deserves to be read as widely as possible.