"As always, Ms Addey's writing is sublime. She can paint a scene with just a few chosen words."
"'In her time there was none such as she - none more beautiful or intelligent or witty ... she was married to Yusuf, who built Marrakech for her...' (12th-century text Kitab al-Istibsar)11th century, North Africa. Zaynab is the famous queen consort of Yusuf bin Tashfin, leader of the Moorish Almoravid army, which defeated El Cid, conquering all of North Africa and most of Spain. But her life is full of unanswered questions. She claimed she would marry the man who would rule all of North Africa, but it took four marriages before this prophecy came true. She was Yusuf’s right hand, an undisputed beauty and gave him many children, yet Yusuf chose as his heir the son of a Christian slave girl. Some said she spoke with djinns and spirits of the air. Having met her as a child in The Cup and as a formidable rival in A String of Silver Beads, in None Such as She Zaynab has her own story to tell."
This is the third in Melissa Addey's series The Moorish Empire. In the first, The Cup, which I have not read, Addey introduces Hela. Hela appears in the second volume, A String of Silver Beads and in this, None Such as She. Hela serves Zaynab's mother, and then Zaynab herself. She is no mere serving woman though; she is a healer and a harmer, using her knowledge of herbs and potions to both good and bad effect. Zaynab, whom we also met in the second volume, is the main focus now. We meet her as a child, witnessing the sadness of her mother as the older woman is left reeling when Zaynab's father takes a new wife. What happens to this new wife, Imen, is pivotal to the rest of the story so I shall say no more than that it shapes Zaynab's future thoughts and actions.
Zaynab becomes a wife herself, but she is destined always to be a second, less wanted wife. She yearns to be loved, to have a husband whom she can truly call her own. Finally, she thinks she has him, but he is Yusuf, husband of Kella, who was the focus of the second volume. I very much enjoyed the earlier parts of this book, getting to know Zaynab and finding out how she became the powerful queen whom we met in Book Two. Now the story crosses over with that of Book Two, telling Zaynab's side of the story, as opposed to Kella's. If I have a criticism it is that here, having read Volume Two, the understanding of how Zaynab comes to be so heartless in her dealings with Kella only amplified the feelings of disapproval which were fostered in me when reading Kella's story. Rather than sympathising with Zaynab, I felt that she should have had more compassion for Kella, having herself been in Kella's position more than once. However, the story then continues beyond this crossover with Kella's story, and it was fascinating to read how the tale concluded. I had felt sorry for Zaynab the young woman, but I lost all feelings of warmth for her because of her dealings with Kella. However, ultimately that didn't matter because the book itself ends in such a satisfying manner. The story arc completes perfectly.
I believe there is to be a fourth book and I assume it will tell the story from another character's point of view. I have one in mind, and I do hope that's the one that Ms Addey chooses to focus upon. As always, Ms Addey's writing is sublime. She can paint a scene with just a few chosen words, such as when the servants 'spring forward' to open the door for Zaynab, 'heaving on the carved expanse of wood.' The sights, sounds, smells and colour of eleventh-century Marrakesh are skilfully evoked. I will wait impatiently for the fourth in this excellent series. From what I have read so far, I would say that all these books can be read as stand-alones.
Ms Addey is one of those authors of whom I can say I would happily read any of her books regardless of the subject matter, because she is such a talented wordsmith.
© Annie Whitehead