The intrepid protagonist of Bahjatt’s (Somewhere!, 2014) novel races to end the civil war in his Islamic homeland—even if it means breaking its biggest rule.
After ruling the territory of Al-Andalus (now modern-day Spain and Portugal) for hundreds of years, the Moors’ reign came to an end with the 1492 fall of Granada. According to Bahjatt’s alternative history, the Moors fled Al-Andalus and came upon the warring tribes of Yaqteenya, whom they joined under the “unifying flag of Islam.” Claiming to be the last surviving Muslims, the Moors made a deal: they would help build Yaqteenya into a great civilization as long as nobody there returned to the old world and told Allah’s enemies about Yaqteenya’s existence. This agreement resulted in nearly 300 years of isolation and peace. Now, five chieftains deny the existence of the old world, question the veracity of Islam, and issue an ultimatum: the Moors and their followers must leave Yaqteenya or die. After a grueling year of bloodshed, Al-Baz Al-Monqad, the son of a chieftain who supports the Moors, decides to defy his father’s wishes and venture beyond Yaqteenya’s borders to determine whether the Moors have been telling the truth. Bahjatt delivers a novel with sci-fi– and fantasy-tinged elements. He effectively divides the novel into two distinct stories: half the novel chronicles Al-Baz’s journey to Granada, which finds him shipwrecked, captured by the Ottoman army, evading a mysterious group called the covenant, and mistaken for the son of a renowned Quran scholar. The other half explores Al-Baz’s life before this voyage, including the beginning of the civil war; Al-Baz’s friendship with Fida, the son of Yaqteenya’s leader; and the nonhuman entities (including mountains and eagles) with whom he can communicate. At times, however, the many intersecting storylines can be difficult to follow, and Bahjatt assembles far more elements than he has time to resolve (although a sequel is forthcoming). While the big picture remains blurry, Bahjatt keeps readers invested with enormous empathy for his main characters.
An exciting, if at times confusing, start to a saga.