I can't even remember how Anahita's Woven Riddle by Meghan Nuttall Sayres ended up on my radar. I remember why I was interested though. It has the sound of a fairy tale type plot where a girl chooses a suitor based on his ability to answer a riddle she weaves into cloth, but is straight up historical fiction. Historical fiction set in late 19th century Iran.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Anahita, a nomad, learns that her father has promised her hand in marriage to a man she dislikes. Determined to have a say in her own fate, Anahita convinces her father to let her hold a contest, in which potential suitors must correctly answer the riddle she has woven into her wedding carpet. A diplomat, a schoolteacher, a shepherd, and a prince compete in Anahita's battle of wits, for the heart of this extraordinary girl.
Anahita is indeed an extraordinary girl, one who dreams of a life where she chooses her own destiny. She would be content learning the secrets of her tribe's dye master and weaving her rugs, but the tribe's khan wants her for his wife. His fourth wife. The previous three are no longer alive. This troubles Anahita, as does her suitor's callous disregard for his people and his bullying ways. It is easy to admire Anahita for her boldness and her refusal to bow to tradition simply because it is the way it has always been done. At times she is strong willed to the point of petulance so she has weaknesses to make her more real. What I really liked about her character was that she didn't feel at all anachronistic. Change always begins when there are one or two people vocal enough to call for it and her reasons were not born of 21st century thought. Interestingly, I learned in the author's note that this story precedes a time in Iranian history when education and change, even for women, began to happen. This change probably occurred because of girls like Anahita and men like her father.
I also enjoyed how the story unfolded in the way so many fairy tale type stories do despite its being realistic and set in the very real world. True to this the villain is definitely a type and not developed well. The romance is not an active one. The story maintains the integrity of the courtship practices of the time and place, which means Anahita and the winner of the contest do not know each other as well as some might like in a romance of this nature. It is true to the setting though and the end is quite satisfying.