THE DAUGHTERS OF IZDIHAR by Hadeer Elsbai.
Orbit Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Nehal Darweesh is about to be married to the wealthiest man her parents can arrange. They always promised her she would be free to find her own husband, yet here she is, two weeks off becoming wife to one of Ramsawa’s most desirable bachelors and all she wants is to become a weaver at the Alamaxa Academy. Finally there is to be a female military division, the first of its kind, and Nehal firmly believes her future lies there, as a waterweaver.
Theirs is not a progressive society; however, and rather ironically, Nehal will not be allowed to enter the academy unless she is given a man’s permission. Whilst there is no chance of securing that from her father, perhaps her new husband will be amenable to a couple of adjustments to the marriage contract. Niccolo Baldinotti has secrets of his own, it would appear.
Giorgina Shukry, a humble, low-born bookshop employee, is now late for work, having been caught in a dust storm. Her boss will be even more put out than normal. An untrained earthweaver, Giorgina has to work hard to control her emotions and hide her wild ability. Attending a fundraising drive for the Daughters of Izdihar – with her face concealed, of course – will set her on a path to change the course of her mundane existence more than she ever imagined.
The Daughters of Izdihar details the plights of Nehal and Giorgina through a story that highlights well the challenges and prejudices of a patriarchal society and the terrible decisions faced by oppressed women as they fight for each small step towards equal rights. Set in an Egypt-inspired land that enjoys, for the moment, tenuous peace with its neighbour, the academy has just started training women against much opposition from parliament.
This book is an easy reader of good pace and sits well among its peers. Although key to the story, the magical elements take a lesser part of the narrative, with the focus really being on the various character relationships and with much page time spent embedding the ‘them vs us’ society in which both protagonists are trapped. Nehal and Giorgina have contrasting social positions, which adds interesting perspective, and their lives clash and interconnect, allowing further tension. Book two will be gladly received to find out where the fight takes these likeable characters next.