Anahita is a nomadic weaver faced with the possibility of an arranged marriage to the khan, the chieftain who represents their tribe in the Iranian government.. Not only is the kahn much older than Anahita, he has already lost three wives. Risking the khan’s retribution, Anahita’s father allows her to pose a contest: whoever guesses the riddle woven into her wedding carpet, proving he shares her love of riddles, will be her husband. As her tribe traverses their migratory route through
Anahita herself is a very strong character: progressive without being radical and strong without being overbearing. She wants to work with the dyemaster and go to school, helps orchestrate a Salvation Army-like clothing cart, questions the second class citizenship of women, and she’s beautiful, too. She learns from all of her mistakes and mends all of the relationships her contest compromises. She’s everything I thought I wanted in a heroine, yet I find her merely likable, not lovable. It may be that I prefer what Anahita represents to her actual character. She is like Odysseus’s Penelope, that grand poobah of weaving ruses: a great woman, but a bit more iconic than realistic.
Coupled with the distancing third person perspective, this iconic role may make Anahita difficult for teens to relate to. Still, she is a strong female character who remains true to herself without becoming self-absorbed — an admirable feat, and one I would like to see more in YA literature.
As is not always the case with romance stories, the other major characters are reasonably well developed. Unfortunately the dialogue between them is too formal at times to be realistic for any time or place. Even with these style snags, it is an enjoyable read. The romantic drama is complicated and never devolves to fluff, the characters are fully developed and likable, and the incredibly detailed, well-researched cultural background itself is a pure wonder.
For more historical fiction set in far foreign lands:
Fletcher: Alphabet of Dreams (B.C.
Grey: Leonardo’s Shadow (Renaissance Italy, ages 12-14)
Hoffman: Incantation (16th century
Smith: Elephant Run (WWII England/Burma, ages 9-11)
Venkatraman: Climbing the Stairs (
For more historical fiction (somewhat) closer to home:
Anderson: Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Vol 1: The Pox Party (Revolutionary America, ages 15-18)
Avi: Seer of Shadows (19th century
Rinaldi: Juliet’s Moon (Civil War