March 7, 2014
The Genie’s Gift by Chris Eboch
The Genie’s Gift
by Chris Eboch
Thirteen year-old Anise dreads growing up. Her sister seems happy enough marrying the man her father chose for her, but Anise can’t imagine marrying a stranger. Shy and timid, Anise fears she won’t have the courage she needs to live a happy life. What if the man her father choses for her is mean? How will she find the courage to stand up for herself and her children? If only she could be as brave as her friend Cassim.
Then Aunt Farasha arrives at the wedding. A widow, Aunt Farasha has refused to remarry and instead carries on acting as a merchant and trader in her husband’s place. She tells her niece about the genie Shakayak, who gives the Gift of Sweet Speech to those who manage to journey to him atop Mount Quaf, away across the desert.
Anise is convinced that if she had the Gift of Sweet Speech, she would be able to make herself heard and make a good life for herself even if she did have to marry someone chosen by her father. The problem is that as a girl, Anise has seldom ventured beyond her family’s compound. When she does, she is accompanied by male relatives and her mother, all of whom make any decisions for her. If only she could find a way!
Anise convinces Cassim to accompany her to Mount Quaf, thinking that Cassim will handle the many people and situations they will have to deal with. She dresses herself in her brother’s cast off clothing and the pair sets out. Unfortunately, they are soon separated and Anice must decide — will she return to her father in disgrace or journey on alone? She decides to carry on and soon finds saving talking birds, haggling in the market place, and tricking both evil queens and devious genies.
Eboch draws heavily on the traditions that gave rise to One Thousand and One Nights, often known as The Arabian Nights, in writing her story. She has created a young heroine who is both believable for her place and time but also someone that girls today will both identify with and like. In solving her problems, Anise uses her wits intead of the sword she carried at her side and soon readers too will be plotting and considering the options as Anise faces challenge after challenge. Personally, I love a story with a brainy main character.
I wasn’t sure a cross dressing girl in this time and place would be believable — she is so sheltered to be plopped down without help in the larger world. You’ll have to read this to see how Eboch makes it work. I also have to love the range of personalities among her characters — the women are not all weak and sheltered, the men not all harsh or demanding. Even if her “bad guys” have good qualities although that doesn’t stop them from getting in Anise’s way.
Eboch lived in Saudi Arabia and has visited Egypt, Bahrain and Turkey. Her love of the desert and the people complete with their fanciful stories shines through in this middle grade fantasy.
This book is available through Amazon; my Kindle copy was provided by Eboch.