Jane Johnson The desert lay before them, and the secrets of the amulet…From Tafraout’s magnificent mountainside, Isobel absorbs the heat and romance of the Moroccan vista before her, with mosque and homes scattered far below. But a mere slip sees her tumbling uncontrollably into the arms of handsome rescuer Taïb, who notices her unusual silver amulet, and that her fall has revealed a tiny scroll hidden within. Entranced by the possibilities of its intricate and illegible script, they set out for the Sahara in search of a Tuareg elder to unlock the riddles of its past. Little does Izzy realize that the desert holds the key to more mysteries than the amulet’s. From beneath the beating sun emerges nomadic Princess Mariata, whose stories of tortured love bind her to the precious talisman in Izzy’s hands. She’s battled the sands; she’s found and lost love among its dunes. And where the amulet crosses both their paths, answers to the deepest secrets lie.
The story weaves together to tell the two tales of Mariata and Isabella. These two women have had very contrasting lives, living in different times and countries, where women are treated in hugely different ways and have vastly different expectations. Isabella in the West being, what we would think of, as a strong, independent, ambitious woman and Mariata in the more Eastern lifestyle. Yet Mariata too is a strong, independent and ambitious woman. The outworking of these qualities in their lives and diverse circumstances bring lots of substance to the story.
It is a beautifully written book and describes Morocco and that area of Africa strikingly. It really brought alive the harsh scenery, the dangers that it brings and yet the awe with which it inspires people. I was also struck by the lives of the travelling desert people, not just how tough they have to be but there sense that they belong to themselves and don’t want to be constrained by national boundaries imposed by outsiders, or by religious boundaries imposed by others coming from the East. The traditions that maintain their lifestyle were fascinating, and as I like to learn my history encased in a great story, this book certainly provided that.
This book has drama, romance and intrigue, although I found that I had guessed at some twists in the story before they happened there were one or two things that came as a surprise. Also figuring out what might happen didn’t detract from the reading of it at all, always a sign of a well written book for me. Verdict: I really enjoyed this, the atmosphere, passion and insight into a different way of life made it a great read. I will be looking out for more work by Jane Johnson. Reviewed by Helen