Our narrator is young and unmarried and Persian and in the 17th century and her father *spoiler* dies unexpectedly so she and her mother have to throw themselves on the mercy of her father’s half-brother, many miles away. Painfully uprooted, they must now suffer the indignity of relying on the kindness of near-strangers. Oh, and the narrator is good at making carpets.
Much vague unpleasantness ensues, as the narrator is reckless and headstrong (when are they not?), until a wealthy horsetrader offers to rent her, which is apparently a thing. Not, like, prostitution, but like she will legally become his wife for three months at a time, after which period he can renew the lease if he is…you know…enjoying himself. Whatever, 17th century Persia. You do what you do.
And it’s interesting. Life is HARD because the narrator and her mother live on the charity of the narrator’s half-aunt, who is sort of mean. But she isn’t an Extremely Wicked Half-Aunt, which would have been predictable and dull, but Moderately Snooty And Sort Of Frustrated By Her Half-Niece Who Keeps Doing Heedless Things, which is crunchier.
Also, the narrator’s relationship with her…lease-husband…is a more different thing. It’s insanely refreshing to have a young female protagonist not be all like, We make excellent sexxor therefore I swoon! Animal magnetism = a reasonable basis for my emotional investment! Instead she’s like, Sometimes he is shitty to me, but on the other hand, I am poor, so. This is a way more interesting conundrum than WOE MY LEGALLY-SANCTIONED LOVER IS MARRYING ANOTHER!
But I would not be Raych: Inexorable Picker of Nits if I did not gripe to you about the following:
I have no patience for using habitual actions as emotional tells. It is lazy, lazy writing. Hajj Ali waving the almanac ‘which is what he did when the prediction he was about to read was alarming.’ Every time? Every time there’s an alarming prediction, he’s all *must wave almanac*? ‘My mother’s back bent a little, as it always did when she felt grief.’ Or “‘Ali, prince among men, help us, save us,” she began, calling on the Prophet’s son-in-law as she always did in times of distress.’ What? No, you can’t say that, because there has been hella distress in this novel so far and not always is she calling on Ali. I have caught you out. Stop turning your characters into caricatures with physical catch-phrases.
And there’s knowing that your cultural material is probably unfamiliar to your readers, and then there’s treating your readers like tourists. The one manipulates context so that you can figure out unfamiliar words, the other points out (every time the word comes up) that ‘Khanoom’ is ‘the polite term for married women.’
But I finished it in a day, so either it was compelling and readable or I had an unfinished paper giving me side-eye (c. all of the above).