Monday, November 7, 2011

The Ruby in Her Navel by Barry Unsworth

During the Middle Ages in Italy, Thurstan Beauchamp, a Christian Yusuf, an Arab, in the palace's finance office.  Thurstan not only deals with the King's money, but also gets sent on errands that involve bribes and blackmail.  On one of these errands, Thurstan meets his childhood sweetheart, whose husband has recently died.  Thurstan believes that at last he will have everything he ever wanted, but there are dark times approaching for the kingdom of Sicily, and things are not as they appear.

Every now and then I like to read an adult book.  You know, just to prove I can.  Oh, and I can.  I just chose not to most of the time.  My mother had given me this one.  When I was almost done with it she informed me she didn't think it was that great.  To which I said, "Why are you giving me bad books to read?  Don't you know my to-read list is a million books long?"  But at that point I was almost finished.  And I guess I didn't hate it enough to give up part way through.  Although, to be honest, there was some skimming.

Despite the cover, this book is not racy.  Like, at all.  What was most interesting about the story was the time it was set in.  Sicily was quite interesting during the Middle Ages.  It had that period where many different religions were living fairly peacefully together under the king.  Keep in mind that this was a time when the Crusades were going on, so that was a pretty big deal.  Unfortunately, this period didn't last forever.  This story is being told right at the time when everything was beginning to deteriorate, and there were emerging feelings of hatred toward the Arab population.

Thurstan is a naive little twit who thought he was much cleverer than he actually was and for most of the book I just felt sorry for him, because it was pretty clear to me from fairly early on where things were going.  I wanted to cry, "You're being played for a fool!  Obviously."  But he didn't listen.  Sigh.  They never listen.  So I was hardly at the edge of my seat as there wasn't much of a mystery.  I did keep reading to see how everything would wrap up, and it got wrapped up awfully tidily.

There's a side plot with some dancers that Thurstan finds and brings to court and his relationship with one of them.  That's where the title comes from.  It seemed an odd choice.  Perhaps something that sounded kind of racy was wanted?  Even though it wasn't?

So it was fine.  The romance wasn't all that romancy, the intrigue wasn't all that intriguing, and the mystery wasn't all that mysterious.  So...yeah.  It was fine.  It was no Mistress of the Art of Death.  Or Brother Cadfael.  But nothing ever could be.

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