Friday, November 30, 2018

A String of Silver Beads, by Melissa Addey

Letterpress Publishing, November 2018

We start in the 1070s, with a woman explaining to us something of Tuareg ways, the importance of women's jewelry and what it reveals about a woman's life.

Kella is a young woman of the Tuareg, and in 1067, at the age of seventeen, she is still passing as her father's youngest son, traveling with him and her five brothers, plying her considerable skills as a trader--and winning camel races.

It's that last that trips her up. Among the Tuareg, it's men and boys, not women and girls, who go veiled. Under a man's robes, and with her face veiled, she can pass as a boy. But when, near the end of a race, her veil becomes tangled and accidentally pulled off, she is exposed as female. It's a huge embarrassment not just to the men she beat in the race, but to her father. He had already been growing uncomfortable with letting her pass for a boy; this is the last straw. She will be returned to their home camp to, finally, learn women's skills from his sister, her Aunt Tezemt.

That's why, when the Commander of a great army and his cousin and chief general visit looking for recruits for a great plan of conquest of North Africa, Kella is in women's clothes and demonstrating her now considerable feminine skills.

But she still longs for the freedom of a trader's life.

What happens from here is both unexpected and, in its own way, logical.

Kella's life unfolds with pieces of jewelry marking each transition and new stage in life. She's intelligent, resourceful, but not so ruthless as some around her. This is an important period in Muslim history and the history of North Africa, with implications, in later books in the series, for the future of Spain, as well. The author has kept to the history that we do know, but there are large areas left undocumented, leaving plenty of room for this story.

The two men who attract her interest are each in their own way both attractive and mostly good, yet not without flaws. The same is true of Kella herself, her family, and her friends.

It's an interesting story about a period of history that isn't familiar to most Americans, and to me at least, is more interesting because of that. Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.