I started reading Forbidden by Kimberly Griffiths Little a half hour before I was planning to go to bed thinking I could get several chapters read. After just one chapter, I had to stop because I knew if I kept reading there would be no be sleeping. It seemed like a book I wouldn't be able to put down. This was true. Not that I'm throughly in love with it, but it was hard to put down.
Jayden is a young girl in a desert tribe, betrothed to the son of her tribe's King. She is destined to be a princess, but is repulsed by her future husband, Horeb. On the day the tribe is to move for the last time of the year, Jayden's mother goes into labor dying in the process. Her family is left to bury her mother and try to catch up to the rest of the tribe. After the burial a young man named Kadesh approaches Jayden and begs assistance. Injured and alone, Kadesh is taken in by Jayden's father and assists in the journey across the desert. The journey is full of hardship and heartache for Jayden. She is forced to give up the things most precious to her in order to survive, and every day she loses her older sister a little more to the goddess worship Leila finds so fascinating. Upon reaching their tribe things do not improve. Horeb is as vicious and leering as ever and Jayden can't stand to be near him. Convinced of their love for each other, Jayden and Kadesh make promises of the future. Promises that are difficult to keep with treachery lurking around every corner.
Jayden is exactly the kind of heroine I love. She is fierce and independent. She has a great sense of family loyalty. Her strength and planning fit her historical context well, and she acts in ways that make sense for her life and time. Her character's emotions and growth are organic and make sense in terms of the story. The other characters are not fleshed out nearly as well, and that includes Kadesh. Given the time period he and Jayden are not given a lot of time alone together which makes their devotion to each other seem rather sudden and is not well developed. He is shown as honorable, good, and pure, but I never really got a sense of him as a person. Just a character sketch. The same can be said for all the other characters. Mostly people are just shown as how they are inferior to Jayden. Her sister and Dinah, her nemesis, are shown as spoiled brats. Leila was developed a bit beyond that, but not sufficiently. Horeb is a mean bully and going to make the worst sort of king, but I could never see him as anything more than a characterization of a bully. Even when he was at his most violent with Jayden, I didn't feel any real fear for her, which is usually a given in situations similar to that one.
The setting of the book is where Little truly excels. We don't have much Ancient Mesopotamian historical fiction, and Little paints a vivid picture of what nomadic desert life was like. It is also clear that she did her research and knows her geography of the time. The story takes place during the time of Hammurabi and is a fascinating look at warring cultures. Jayden's tribe are "children of Abraham", an allusion, I assume, to the descendants of Ishmael. (There is another reference to the nation of the twelve tribes of Jacob.) Their tribe travels the desert and eschews the cities, yet the cities are growing up everywhere and the hold an allure for the younger members of the tribe. The idol worship of Baal and Asherah are also tempting to the younger members. Several of the girls, including Jayden's sister, wish to be temple prostitutes. The temple sends recruiters out to convince these desert girls that this is a life to crave and envy. I'm really hoping this is touched on more as this trilogy continues because I can't believe that life as a temple prostitute is all that it's cracked up to be. I think that not showing the perils and disillusion of a life of sexual servitude in a book aimed at young girls would be negligent, but I'm hoping its going to come up. Here Little does do an excellent job of showing the lures used to pull girls into actually desiring such a life. Leisure, riches, and the promise of always being cared for are difficult things to turn your back on when you are a girl with nothing. I did like the way that Jayden is shown to be fascinated by the idol worship herself, but sticks to what she has been raised to believe. She truly wants to be a dedicated servant of God and to be a wife and mother. She wants to choose her husband and father of those children though. There are a lot of interesting themes about womanhood and choice explored and that was my favorite part of the novel.
I was rather annoyed to reach the end and realize this wasn't a stand alone novel. I thought it was. There was no series information on Goodread or Edelweiss (that I saw). When I reached the end, I suspected there would be more, and sure enough the author's website calls it a trilogy. Sigh. I will read the next one, but find myself irritated by the end here. Not every story NEEDS three books to tell it. I'm so over this.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Collins, via Edelweiss. Forbidden is available for purchase on November 4.