Guest Reviews: The Jewel of Medina & The Sword of Medina

Today, I’m featuring a lovely book blogger, Heather from Raging Bibliomania. Here’s a little bit about her blog, in Heather’s own words:

My blog is called Raging Bibilomania and I review just about every type of book that I can think of! I really enjoy historical fiction, literary fiction, and fiction that focuses on cultures around the world. I do also review some non-fiction and history books as well. I am an avid lover of books and reading, and lucky to be living in a house that is full of readers as well!

Even though the following reviews are a bit long, I’ve chosen to keep them together since the books “go together” in terms of the timeline and the characters. I’ve heard of these books but never gotten around to reading them myself, so I’m happy to have Heather introduce me (and you) to them in more depth!

Book cover for "The Jewel of Medina" by Sherry Jones.Title: The Jewel of Medina

Author: Sherry Jones

Pages: 432

Published: 2008

Genre: Historical Fiction

A’isha bint Abi Bakr has known the prophet Muhammad all her life; in fact, he was present at her birth. When her father, a close ally to Muhammad, decides to cement his loyalty and friendship to the prophet by betrothing A’isha to him when she is just 6 years old, her fate as his “child-bride” begins. Though A’isha will not be married to Muhammad for three years, her betrothal to the prophet brings many unusual changes into the life of the young girl. Beginning with an unusually early purdah (forced segregation from the opposite sex), A’isha discovers that life as Muhammad’s favored wife will not be an easy task. Not only must she give up her freedom and taste for adventure, she must navigate a path to her husband’s heart among a plethora of other women who also call Muhammad “husband,” and forsake the man who is her true heart’s desire. As A’isha grows from child to woman, the new religion of Islam, under Muhammad’s care, grows with her. The Jewel of Medina is the little-known story of the woman behind Allah’s chosen messenger; Here are A’isha bint Bakr’s desires, disappointments and dreams for all to see, woven amongst the inception of one of the world’s most formidable and misunderstood religions.

After hearing all the hype surrounding this book, I was expecting a tome filled with controversy. I wasn’t sure what it would deliver. Would it be a blasphemous portrayal of the foremost man of Islam? Would it be slanderous or rife with sexual impropriety? What could possibly be so contentious about this book? So, I read it, and what I found was a bit disappointing. The book, although interesting and timely, was a bit heavy-handed and trite. It seems that the elements that were most upsetting must have been Muhammad’s taking so many wives. His appetite for women and marriage seemed at times almost comic and unbelievable. If a new woman was described in the narrative, chances are that in a few pages Muhammad would take her as a wife. This portrayal made Muhammad seem like an unscrupulous and lewd old man. I believe that was one of the reasons it was so hard for me to see this character as a great leader to many people. I just couldn’t believe a man who had such tremendous sexual appetites was a holy and revered man. In a way, this depiction made Muhammad look manipulative and crafty. For example, when he heard the voice of God commanding him to take more wives, he claimed his need for more women only had to do with strategic alliances for Islam. But tied up in these protestations was the story of a lusty man amassing a harem of women. Which brings me to my next point: This unabashed parade of new wives seemed to be the center of the story.

Instead of character or story development, it seemed that the story was about many women fighting over one man. The story had no other underlying plot than the jealousies and competitions of A’isha and the rest of the women. Instead of relating the story of one woman’s love and relationship with a charismatic leader, what I got instead was a novel full of infighting, insecurity and envy. When I realized that this book was not going to be the serious piece of semi-history that I had hoped for, I was able to take it for what it was and begin to enjoy the ride. As far as historical romance goes, this wasn’t a bad book. The problem is that with all the attention surrounding this book, readers may be expecting a more factual or enlightening interpretation of Islam and it’s first lady, when in fact this is more of a book filled with unrequited romantic intrigue.

I also felt that the book contained a weak interpretation of Muhammad. As a reader, I never saw him as a forceful personal leader. In fact, he seemed a bit wishy-washy and irresolute. Without belaboring the point, the fact was that he was so busy with all of his wives that he was never seen in any other capacity. Another thing that I noticed was that the book also had almost no atmospheric touches, so it seemed that there was a scarcity of historical or cultural flavor in the narrative. The effect of this void was that it made the story more bland and forgettable than other historical novels that I have read.

Although this review paints a somewhat bleak picture, The Jewel of Medina was not a terrible book. At times it was entertaining and exciting, if only to answer the questions of the romantic quandaries in the story. The book also had a nice flow, with little to no awkwardness in the elements of the storytelling. Though I felt that the story was a little common and corny, I also thought that it was executed fairly well. While I did end up somewhat enjoying it, that was only after a huge adjustment in my expectations. The main problem was that I just couldn’t lose myself in the story because it seemed farcical and unimportant. I thought the book would be inspirational and moving, but in the end it wasn’t. I think that is one of the problems with books that are just so hyped: there is bound to be disappointment unless the book is absolutely brilliant. After all this, I would still recommend this book to those who like historical romance and wouldn’t mind taking a chance on a first time author.

Book cover for "The Sword of Medina" by Sherry Jones.Title: The Sword of Medina

Author: Sherry Jones

Published: 2009

Pages: 432

Genre: Historical Fiction

Picking up where her first book, The Jewel of Medina, left off, Sherry Jones invites us back into the life of A’isha bint Abi Bakar, the prophet Muhammad’s favorite wife and child bride. Following Muhammad’s death from the Medina fever, his followers are left bereft. When A’isha’s father Abu Bakar steps into the role of Khalifa (spiritual leader of the Muslims), things are far from peaceful because various factions are not satisfied with this solution. Unhappiness and rumors rage throughout the camp, leaving A’isha caught in the middle. The unrest grows when tragedy befalls her father, for there are many wishing to replace him. One of the hopefuls is A’isha’s hated nemesis, Ali, who was once a close companion to Muhammad. A’isha will do almost anything to keep the position out of Ali’s hands, though she soon comes to find that the others jockeying for position are no more palatable. As various men try their hands at being Khalifa, rage erupts in the camp and it is up to A’isha and Ali to prevent their struggling religion from being destroyed by war, greed, and nepotism. Both intricate and timely, The Sword of Medina painstakingly exposes this most pressing and engulfing time in history.

Just over a year ago, I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing Sherry Jones provocative and thoughtful historical novel, The Jewel of Medina. Though I mostly enjoyed the book, I harbored questions as to the legitimacy of the prophet Muhammad’s intense love of women. Sherry, eager to share her collected information regarding this subject, wrote me a beautiful post addressing my question and helped me to more fully understand Muhammad’s interest in the fairer sex. I was both surprised and honored to hear from her again a few months ago when she asked me if I would like the opportunity to read and review her next work in the series, The Sword of Medina. I accepted eagerly because I was very interested in finding out what had transpired with A’isha after Muhammad’s unexpected death, and I was pleased to become enmeshed in the continuing saga of A’isha Bint Bakar.

First of all, I felt that Sherry did a magnificent job of highlighting the political and religious turmoil that raged throughout Muhammad’s encampment after his death. There were a lot of very unhappy people plotting and scheming during that time, and the author did a great job of canvasing the many groups who had their own ideas about the future of Islam. The tension that she created throughout these sections was palpable and it was clear to me why A’isha was so troubled by the direction that Muhammad’s legacy had taken. A lot of A’isha’s time and energy went towards smoothing the ruffled feathers of the people and trying to stay one step ahead of the roiling mass of unhappiness that was spreading over the camp. I felt that A’isha was torn between the desire to keep her people happy and her overwhelming urge to prevent Muhammad’s wishes for his people to be tainted.

I also thought that the relationship between A’isha and Ali was written with precision and believability. Ali harbored much anger and resentment towards A’isha, just as she did for him, but there were moments when the ideals and beliefs of the two were very similar, which highlighted the contradiction between their feelings and their beliefs. Towards the conclusion of the book, A’isha’s eyes are opened in regards to Ali and she is able to see that his wishes are not so alien from her own, a fact that does much to quell her fear for the uncertain path of Islam. I liked the scenes between these two characters because I felt that both characters were able to admire each other privately while still being headstrong and clashing every time they interacted, which gave a profound depth to their relationship.

In the first book, much of the action centered around Muhammad’s wives and their struggles amongst themselves for peace. This book was much more focused on the path that Islam took after the death of its founder. There was much political intrigue in this second book, which I appreciated because it gave me a frame of reference and an insider’s peek into the problems that plagued a religion without a strong leader. There were some very developed battle scenes in the book as well, which served to highlight the Muslim’s quest for acceptance and honor among tribes of non-believers. The crux of the battle towards the conclusion of the book sharply delineated the power struggle between A’isha and Ali, and was, I felt, a very moving conflict between the two.

The only small quibble I had with the book was the abundance of characters that jostled for space among the story. There was a very large cast of characters, which I felt was a little overwhelming at times, but I really don’t see how any of the players could have been excised from the story without creating a gaping hole in the narrative. At times it was a little confusing to keep all the players straight, but as I became more in tune with the story, it got a bit easier for me to sort things out.

This was a very satisfying conclusion to the story that I had read a year ago and I think Sherry created a very precise and detailed story that many readers have had little exposure to. If you enjoyed The Jewel of Medina I think that that this book would make a great read for you, though I might not advise picking up this tale without having read the first. I enjoyed this second book greatly and think that for those curious about the rise and spread of Islam, these books would make enlightening reading.

This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

6 thoughts on “Guest Reviews: The Jewel of Medina & The Sword of Medina”

  1. I was happy to see this Ramadan reading month. I was interested in Jewel… but having read the review it seems to give a wrong impression of Islam. The opposite of it’s intention,surely.The post is very nice.
    The Prophet Mohammad was not a letch or fiend for the ladies , in fact some of his wives gave up their days with him for the other wives. His greatest love, his first wife died before he took any others. He was human and so were the wives, so emotion happens. That’s were lessons are learned. I am disappointed, too, that The book on “honor killing” is group with Ramadan. Why? Islam does not promote this. Culture is not part of Islam. Islam is for everyone regardless of nation, color, language …
    I do appreciate the open dialoge,maybe a free book should be the Quran.

    1. That was the point of putting the book on honour killings in the month – to write a review that highlights the fact that it is not something that is a real part of Islam, even though it is something that Westerners often associate with Muslim countries.

  2. Carina, thanks for letting me share my reviews with you! They are both really fascinating books and I think they would really interest a lot of readers, both those familiar with Islam, and those new to it.

  3. Nice that you included a picture! Great to see what you look like Heather.

    I definitely thought these books were more serious as well, so good to know that they are not! Romance isn’t so much my thing so I might avoid these for now. They sound interesting but I would definitely be looking for more in the story!

  4. Thank you for these reviews! I know that I wouldn’t have liked reading something that had such depictions of Muhammad, so the way I see it, you read it so I didn’t have to 😉

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