I was delighted to attend the recent launch of Sara Sheridan's new novel Secret of the Sands, as I had so enjoyed her earlier novel The Secret Mandarin (and you can read my review of that here).
Secret of the Sands is set in 1833. Lieutenant James Wellstead is travelling into the interior of the Arabian peninsula to find two of his shipmates who went missing on a surveillance trip.
In parallel the novel also follows the story of Zena, an Abyssinian slave girl bought by a desperate father to tempt his gay son into some semblance of heterosexuality. Zena and her master find a way to fooh his father and the household into thinking they are having a romantic relationship. Later, her master loses her in a gamble and she finds herself owned by Wellstead.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The setting is evoked beautifully and vividly and the characters and their relationships are well drawn. The issues of slavery and human rights are woven seamlessly into the story, so the reader is made to think about them without feeling as though we're being preached at. The characters of Wellstead and Zena are based on historical characters but the novel is a fictionalisation around the known historical facts. This is something that can annoy me if its not done well, but here (and in The Secret Mandarin) the historical facts feel to be respected within the telling of the story.
As there is a gay character in this book, this review qualifies for the LGBT Reading Challenge.
You can read Sara's article about gay rights in 1800s Arabia in the Guardian here.
Sara is taking part in Authors for Japan, her item for the auction includes a career consultation for a fledgling writer plus signed copies of both Secret of the Sands and The Secret Mandarin - you can find out more and put in your bid here