Book Review: Forbidden (Forbidden #1), Kimberley Griffiths Little (2014)

February 11th, 2015 4:42 pm by Kelly Garbato

Rich in Detail and Drama

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through the book blog Batch of Books. Trigger warning for rape.)

1759 BC, the deserts of Mesopotamia. Sixteen-year-old Jayden – daughter of Pharez, of the tribe Nephish – is about to perform the betrothal dance before the women of her tribe, sealing her fate as the soon-to-be-wife of Horeb, her adopted cousin and prince in training. Handsome, powerful, and wealthy, Horeb is considered a real catch by many of the young women in this desert-dwelling tribe. Only Jayden sees him for who he truly is – a cold, calculating man, filled with cruelty and sadism. (Perhaps because Horeb only drops his mask for her, delighting in tormenting someone completely lacking in recourse – for when they wed, she will become his property.)

Though their betrothal dates back to their childhoods, there might have been a time when Jayden’s father could have renegotiated or even broken it. Originally it was her older sister Leila’s marriage to Zenos, the elder of the two brothers, which took precedent. Zenos was first in line to become tribal King upon the death or retirement of his father, Abimelech, and Leila was to rule as his Queen. But all that changed when Zenos died during a raid the previous year – pinning all of her family’s hopes on Jayden’s thin shoulders.

And while her heart is heavy with doubt and fear, Jayden dances, even as she fantasizes about confiding in her mother Rebekah the next morning. When she awakes, most of the tribe is already packed and en route to its summer lands, the oasis by Tadmur: “the place of weddings and births.” It’s where Jayden is to be wed to Horeb at the end of the year, and where Rebekah will welcome her newest child into the world. But something is wrong, and the baby is coming early, with only one neighboring family left to help.

(Actually, that’s not true; Jayden catches Horeb on his way out, and he brushes her off: “If you want to be married to a tribal chief, you have to get used to doing things on your own.”)

Before the day is done, Jayden has buried her mother, as well as one of the two babies growing inside her: a boy named Isaac. With the rest of the tribe long gone – and lone travel across the desert foolish at best – Jayden and her family opt to travel with Shem and his wife and daughters, who are leaving the tribe at Damascus.

Also part of the caravan: a mysterious stranger named Kadesh. Cresting the cliffs just in time to witness Jayden’s final heartfelt dance for her freshly buried mother, feverish and sporting a days-old gash in his side, the family decides that he must travel with them – even though it’s in the complete opposite direction of where he needs to be. Namely, his uncle’s frankincense groves south, near the Red Sea. Though his eventual departure is inevitable, Jayden falls for him hard, their blossoming romance only strengthening her resolve to find a way out of her marriage to Horeb.

The weeks-long journey to Tadmur – where the travelers must battle hunger, thirst, a dwindling herd, raiders, slavers, and rapists – is just the first of many obstacles threatening to undo the young couple. Once they reach the oasis, the danger only grows, as the two are thrust into Horeb’s sphere of influence. Backed by generations of custom as well as a tribe full of devoted admirers, Jayden has little hope of asserting her independence and outing Horeb for what he really is – a murderer and a rapist.

(If it seems like I’m dropping major spoilers here, fear not: most of this transpires in the first few chapters. There’s plenty more action and plot twists to be found in the 400-page book!)

Forbidden is nothing if not grim. Jayden’s world is filled with hardship, disparity, and brutality. Women are treated like chattel, bought and sold by their fathers in exchange for jewels and camels; their very fates decided by the men in their lives. Death is a constant companion, especially during the arduous journeys from place to place, as these desert nomads chase water. Chase life. Life isn’t cheap, but rarely will it let you stop to mourn the dead.

Kimberley Griffiths Little tells Jayden’s story in rich, evocative prose, bringing the setting to life in vivid detail. Horeb is often in danger of becoming a cartoon villain, but the author does a good enough job of adding depth and complexity to the character. I would have liked to have gotten to know Kadesh a little better – perhaps a little more attention to his character might have made their relationship really spark – but the author’s note suggests that this is coming later in the series. At 400 pages, Forbidden is nothing to sniff at. While I largely enjoyed it, I wonder whether Griffiths Little can pull off two more books without losing some steam. As it was, Forbidden skirted the boundary between epic and drawn-out.

Set in Mesopotamia – the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, encompassing Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran – during the First Babylonian Dynasty – Forbidden features a racially and culturally diverse cast. Though Griffiths Little shies away from descriptions of skin color – noting that “researchers still debate what ancient people in Egypt and the Middle East thousands of years ago actually looked like” – her depictions veer toward the dark: dark hair, dark eyes, and occasionally dark skin; e.g., “sun-browned fingers,” “the beginnings of a beard showed on his dark skin”; “his features were dark and wild and beautiful all at the same time.” Given this, her insistence that “readers can picture the characters however they want to” feels a bit like a cop-out; an invitation to whitewash, if you will. Or maybe I’m just primed to expect whitewashing, given incidents like this and this.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Set in Mesopotamia – the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, encompassing Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran – during the First Babylonian Dynasty – Forbidden features a racially and culturally diverse cast. Though Griffiths Little shies away from descriptions of skin color – noting that “researchers still debate what ancient people in Egypt and the Middle East thousands of years ago actually looked like” – her depictions veer toward the dark: dark hair, dark eyes, and occasionally dark skin; e.g., “sun-browned fingers,” “the beginnings of a beard showed on his dark skin”; “his features were dark and wild and beautiful all at the same time.” Given this, her insistence that “readers can picture the characters however they want to” feels a bit like a cop-out; an invitation to whitewash, if you will. Or maybe I’m just primed to expect whitewashing, given incidents like this and this.

 

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