This copy was provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Some things may have changed in the final version.
The Tyrant's Daughter follows Laila as she adjusts to life in the United States, following her father's assassination, and sees her home and family from a new perspective. Having studied abroad, I probably should have been better prepared for the lengthy periods of confusion and culture clash. Unfortunately, the whole book was filled with this confusion, and Laila's constant lack of direction didn't work for me.
What I liked:
- There are some authentic, typical teenager moments that made me smile. Silly little things, like high school gossip.
- Bastion, the little brother. He does not play a large, active role in the story, but he quietly adjusts to life in the States, playing and watching cartoons and being a kid. Goodness knows he's gone through some horrible things, but, from what I saw, he seems to bear it stoically with either dignity or denial. For him, life isn't paused or over. It just has a different set of scenery.
What I didn't like:
- The narration style. The Tyrant's Daughter is told in first person point-of-view, and it's not a novel so much as a collection of small scenes woven in with many, many thoughts and commentary. It was a little like a diary, or a personal essay, and the resulting story style and structure was not my favorite.
- The narrator. The main character, Laila, has just loss her father, her home and her country. She is struggling to adjust to life and culture in the US. She finds a new balance by adopting a sort of Humanist view--that is, there is no absolute right or wrong. Everything depends on the context in which you live. So things that were frowned upon or illegal in her Middle Eastern country are not wrong for her to do in the U.S. This perspective persists throughout most of the novel. It makes her a wishy-washy character without a firm opinion or belief about anything, and it made me fear for her future. If she will accept anything as right or wrong depending on the environment, why would she not accept terrorist extremism or the oppression of women, if it were the accepted norm, were she to return to her country?
- Missed opportunity to include diverse beliefs. People have beliefs, religious or otherwise, and their actions and decisions are shaped by these beliefs. I wasn't looking for a clash of Islam and Christianity or a final resolution of their differences or anything; but to present both a girl from a heavily Muslim Middle Eastern country and a missionaries' kid without either one professing or seemingly being invested in faith beyond "there's something out there" struck me as strange, almost an avoidance tactic, and definitely a missed opportunity for a frank and relevant discussion.
- The end. Laila's decision(s) is consistent with her character, but it frustrated me. She still has few clear priorities and seems likely to float along with whatever tide hits next. It gives me little hope for her future or her brother's.
Honestly, were I not reading this book to review on NetGalley, I probably wouldn't have finished it. I like the general concept, but the execution didn't work for me. However, if you're looking for a Middle Eastern MC, a book that delves into the perspective of a dictator's family and/or like the sound of the narrative style, you'll probably enjoy this story.