Friday, 1 June 2018

Timetravel to the barbary coast "Captive" by Brenda Joyce

I even like my time travel fantasy novels to be correct historically.This book is set around the time the American navy stopped the Barbary coast corsairs. Comes across as quite well researched - at least the American part - and it is a very good story.

Sometimes you are in a museum and you look at a painting thinking "What a very handsome man that guys was. Too bad he is dead for centuries". I did last week. In this novel that is exactly what Alexandra, a student in naval history does. Somehow however she has the feeling the ghost of the man talks to her. (I just looked the guy up on Wikipedia. If he had talked to me I had committed myself to an asylum. But hey this is a fantasy novel. A timetravel fantasy novel).

Alexandra travels all the way to Ghadaffi ruled Libya to find our what happened to Xavier the man in the painting. When she is in Tripoli she faints and waked up in the early years of the 19th century.

The story is enthralling but there were four elements that annoyed me:

--- minor spoiler alert ---

1) The book is written during the Ghadaffi-era and it is obvious that the American writer had not that much sympathy for Arabs. There are only two people in the whole story that are mentioned in a positive light: a eunuch in the harem and the first wife of the ruler. For the rest people are depicted as being very cruel. And what is wrong with 'Being almost too handsome for a man?'
The cities on the coast of North Africa would attack Western ships for the cargo and the sailors would be held for ransom. As an alternative a country could pay a kind of protection money. When you read the accounts written by some of those sailors it is obvious that even while the crew was enslaved an educated man and one with a will to make something of his life could rise to quite a good job and even some personal wealth. Some became the secretaries of the barshaw or the bey.  The common sailor would be put to work on manual labour and that could indeed mean an early death but having been pressganged in the navy you were also lucky if you survived. Life was a lot harder and more cruel than it is now. The slaves who had to build Meknes died very fast. The writer described the situation of the slaves like a kind of concentration camp or POW camp during the civil war. I think that was not always the case although slavery for years on end - when no-one paid your ransom - is terrible. But I think the writer shows prejudice against the Arabs in the book. The guy who marries her seems quite nice and if driven over the edge by how Alexandra behaves.

2) Alexandra knows Xavier will be executed because he had dealings with the wife of the ruler so what does Alexandra do when the son of the barshaw marries here? Exactly: try to contact Xavier all the time in person while a message could be send via her slave. Why put someone deliberately in danger? Someone you do not know personally.


3) Oh and the plot that her husband allows her a year to mourn is quite silly. One in those countries mourning was three months and two why would a guy in that position allow such a long period.

4) The sexscenes are quite explicit when they are in bed together but during one bad occasion we have to guess what happened.

Now it looks like I did not like the book: I do. It has you reading it for hours. And when you look things up the whole naval part is nicely done. It is just that the leading lady is stupid :)

Who wants to sniff up some historical fact have a look here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Barbary_War





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