Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Review – Barry UNSWORTH – “The Ruby in her Navel”

Publ: 2006 Penguin
Own copy
ISBN: 978 0 241 14221 2
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 328p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** ***

What led you to pick up this book?
It was for sale in the library and Barry Unsworth was not an author I knew so I decided to give it a try.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
Thurstan is a young Norman would-be knight at the court of King Roger of Sicily in Palermo in the twelfth century. His post in the court requires a great deal of political nous. The machinations mainly revolve around the antagonism between the Christians and the followers of Islam. As the Saracens form his primary guards and other Arabs his advisers and artists the king’s fellow Franks are suitably jealous. Known for his loyalty but divided between the ideals of chivalry and the harsh political realities of his tumultuous times, Thurstan is dispatched abroad as a paymaster of spies and those intended to foment trouble in the countries of the king's enemies. . During his journeys, he encounters the woman he loved as a youth, Lady Alicia, now returned a widow from the Holy Land; at the same time, he is gripped by the earthy sensuality of the dancer, Nesrin, whose troupe he brings to the Court to dance for the king. In a compelling tale of love, passion, intrigue, and treachery, Thurstan finds himself caught in a tangle of plots, counter-plots, and deceptions, which force him to question the nature of his ambition and the folly of uncritical reverence for authority. The plot is complicated and cleverly done.

What did you think of the characters?
An excellent set of characters, wonderfully seen through the eyes of Thurstan - from King Roger who remains aloof from the novel - until the end – just as he would have done from his subjects to the master craftsmen working on the Royal chapel.

What did you think about the style?
The author has a great feel for his period and really makes it live. His prose is excellent. This is the first novel by Barry Unsworth that I can recall reading. I shall certainly seek more of his works.

What did you like most about the book?
The novel approach to the time of the Crusades.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
For some reason – which I find hard to identify – I found it hard to get into the first couple of chapters but once past that I loved it.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Most appropriate to the content, a neat piece of artwork by Bernard Blatch..

Would I recommend it?
Yes. Not just as a historical novel but also as a love story.

was born in 1930 in Durham. He has spent a number of years in the Eastern Mediterranean area and has taught English in Athens and Istanbul. He now lives in Italy. He is the author of many novels including Sacred Hunger, joint winner of the 1992 Booker Prize.


  1. have you read the temeraire series by naomi novik? it's a historical fantasy series set in the Napoleonic era. if you haven't, you should take a look. novik puts a new spin on dragons....and historical books are just fun to read.

  2. Thanks Aubrey, that sounds like a series to look out for - I love both fantasy and the Napoleonic era


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