Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Alphabet of Dreams (review)

4/5 stars

We all have tropes that we will pick up no matter what, right?  For me, the "girl posing as a boy to make her way in the world" trope is pretty much an insta-read.  So when I was at the library browsing audiobooks, none of the titles really grabbing me, I flipped over a book and read the description.  When I got to this line,  "Now disguised as a boy, Mitra has never given up believing that they can rejoin what is left of their family and regain their rightful standing in the world," I stopped reading midway through the summary, went to the checkout desk and came home with Alphabet of Dreams (Goodreads | Amazon ).

For a book that I had never heard of, Alphabet of Dreams immediately drew me in.  The book takes place in Persia and the Middle East during Biblical times.  Mitra and Babak are the children of nobles forced to live as beggars after their father attempts to revolt against the king. Mitra, who goes by Ramin as a boy, never gives up hope that there's a better life for her.  She believes that her family is alive and that one day they'll be able to live as nobility again, not as poor starving beggars.

What I didn't realize (probably because I stopped reading the description halfway through) is that this is a retelling of the birth of Jesus from the prospective of the wise men.  If you're worried that this book is overtly religious, don't be.  If Goodreads hadn't told me, I wouldn't have realized until they were at the manger (and felt like an idiot because the clues were all there, 3 magus's following a star and all). But that's a testament to the power of Mitra's story.  The journey with the wise men is the backdrop to her tale, not the main plot line.

This is the story of an ambitious girl trying to survive in a harsh world.  She is not a soft pampered princess, but a street smart, tough girl, who just wants to be with her mother, father and brother and to feel safe again. But this is also the story of a girl who eventually realizes that wealth isn't everything, who loves her brother and would do anything to protect him.  She's prideful, ambitious, but still loving and kind.  I like that she's a complicated imperfect character struggling in a new world that she doesn't understand.

I also liked that this book took place in the Middle East (this is becoming a trend with me isn't it?).  Most of the "girl dressed as boy" stories take place in very anglo-European settings, sometimes fantasy, sometimes historical, but the new setting added an extra dimension to the "girl dressed as boy" because of the cultural restrictions on Persian women and the rules related to the gods they served.

Overall this book was an excellent surprise that I would recommend, especially on audio.

The narration was excellent.  Not knowing anything about Persian accents, I cannot comment on the accuracy but I'm glad they used an accent.  The narrator allowed you to really see inside Mitra's head, capturing the emotions without intruding into the story.

No comments: