Friday, August 15, 2014

The tyrant's daughter by J.C. Carleson

When her father is murdered by her uncles assassin Laila, her brother, and her mother flee the only home she has ever known for an uncertain future in the United States of America.  She has lived the life of a princess, a life of privilege and protection, safe in a bubble that protected her from the truth about her family and the country they rule.  Her father was the king, her brother the prince, and now that is all gone - only the memories are left.  But in America Laila learns that what she has always known is not the whole truth, her father was not the king, he was a dictator who ruled their Middle Eastern country with an iron fist and deadly control.  It is a shocking discovery that makes Laila question everything she knew about her father and everything she knows about their life as a family.

In America it is easy to be just another person, another refugee leaving their past behind.  When she has to start school it quickly becomes clear that school is a chance for a new start, a chance for her to learn how to adapt to her new home, a chance to be just another teenagers.  America offers incredible freedom and at the same time shows incredible waste - food is processed and packaged and wasted, such a change from the freshness and lacking-ness of her old life.  As Laila learns more about her father, and learns more about her mothers plans, she also discovers more about herself and how far she is willing to go.  As she sheds her veils and her ignorance, Laila also discovers who she truly is and what she is willing to do for the people in the country she once called home and for the people who share her new world in America.

The tyrant's daughter is a thought provoking novel that is very different to the kinds of books I would normally read and I am very glad that I picked it up after seeing the book reviewed on an email newsletter.  The book is so vague in the descriptions of Laila's home country that it is easy to picture a wealth of possibilities, especially as there is so much conflict in some parts of the world at the moment and while there are echoes of the past there are also warnings for the future.  Through Laila we discover just how easy it is for children to be raised ignorant of what their parents do, to see just how easily a person can be despised as a tyrant by the rest of the world and yet loved by their family.  Laila feels like a genuine voice, and at times her voice seems to be the only sane voice in her new world as everyone else tries to push their own agendas or simply get their own way.

J.C. Carleson is a former undercover CIA officer and it is her knowledge and "feel" for international events that makes this book so real and believable - while it is a work of fiction Carleson admits to including events and ideas that are based on a variety of truths.  While this was a well written book with an engaging cast of characters and events, it is also clear that this story has the potential to be a powerful teaching tool for assigned reading for high school students around the world.  There are so many possibilities for themes here that it is mind boggling - self discovery, heroes and villains, war and peace, American interference with international events, and so on.  It seems even more poignant reading this story at a time when the conflict has ramped up yet again between Israel and Palestine - it makes you look at who holds the power there and what desperate people will do when they are denied access to food and essential medical supplies. 

The tyrant's daughter has the potential to become a modern classic alongside titles like Z for Zachariah and Tomorrow, when the war began.  There is no gratuitous violence, no exaggeration, this is a story told plainly and with passion - seeing the world through Laila's eyes once all the veils are lifted is enough to give this story incredible impact.  This is not a story for every reader, some will struggle to finish, but it is one of those books for me, one I am glad I picked up and read because it is a unique book with a unique voice that deserves to be discovered and read for its own merits.

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Reviewed by Brilla

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