Secret of the Sands by Sara Sheridan
|Secret of the Sands by Sara Sheridan|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Louise Laurie|
|Summary: A sweeping epic tale in the enigmatic Arabian desert sands. Two very different individuals paths cross with some tender, dangerous and also surprising results.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: February 2011|
It's the summer of the year 1883. William Wilberforce, hero of the anti-slavery movement is enjoying a gentleman's life in London. But, far away in Abyssinia, things are far from rosy for the local people. The situation facing them is ugly and very dangerous - slavers (what a horrible word) are in the area and with the stark sentence It takes only seven minutes to capture almost everyone we get the picture, loud and clear. Sheridan wastes no time in giving her readers the heart-wrenching details: the elderly are separated and treated with very little dignity (they're almost worthless, not worth the bother of transportation), the fit and healthy are singled out and lastly, the young are segregated. They are 'prized' most of all. And into this latter category falls a pretty 17 year old girl called Zena. She is spirited. She will not show any fear. She thinks for a split second of running but is intelligent enough to know that she'd be beaten severely for her sheer insubordination and probably even killed on the spot. But behind her expressive eyes she is thinking and plotting ...
And as we learn more and more about Zena, we can understand why she will be not cowed. Her background included not only servants but also slaves. She's been used to being waited on and now she is the lowest of the low - a slave. Unthinkable.
We're also given some background information of the sea voyages undertaken by the British Navy and there's a particularly good line ... the Malcolm brothers rule most of Britannia's waves which sums up the situation beautifully. There's plenty of that stiff, upper lip language, secret disdain for the uncouth Arabs and also for the filth and the unrelenting heat of the bally sun. As Sheridan puts it In the desert it is so hot that it comes as a surprise that a human can breathe at all. We're also given quite a bit of information about this part of the Middle East and particularly about the hazards of the sands in some lovely descriptive prose.
We then meet the other main character of the book, Lt James Wellstead. We learn that he's from a 'trade' family so lower down the pecking order, if you see what I mean. But even so, he's a good officer and an ambitious one. He wants to make his mark in some way and soon thinks up a clever scheme to get himself noticed. But will this scheme work? His colleagues on board are quite a mixed bunch which all adds up to an interesting read.
And as we flit back and forth between London and life in the Arabian desert, the juxtaposition is very effective indeed. The exotic-ness of the Arabian countries is apparent, as well as aspects much less exotic. The reader gets to travel many miles with the feisty Zena on an often arduous journey. But it's not simply a journey in miles - it's also a personal journey of discovery for Zena. Yes, I know it can be a bit cliched but it works here. Sheridan has created two rather exotic individuals in an exotic location. Seems to be a win-win situation. Perhaps at times the language is a little syrupy for my taste and around three quarters of the way through the story there seems to be a coincidence less than credible but that said, this novel is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Recommended.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If this appeals try The Half-Slave by Trevor Bloom.
You can read more book reviews or buy Secret of the Sands by Sara Sheridan at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Secret of the Sands by Sara Sheridan at Amazon.com.
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