Interesting history, but terrible romance. This novel is based on the life of the historical character Muhammad al-Idrisi, a 12th century Muslim geographer in Sicily during the reign of king Roger II. Sicily had been retaken by Christian forces from the Muslims, but there was still a Muslim majority on the island, and the conquerors were unable to administer the island without Muslim help. So until the death of Roger the local population was left mostly in peace. The novel covers the period of about 10 years on either side of Roger’s death.
Unfortunately, significant parts of the novel are written like a cheap romance, and even some of the social commentary is presented in the form of stilted dialogue between the main characters. This was disappointing coming from Tariq Ali.
Also, too, Ali brings the novel to a rather abrupt close, with a brief epilogue describing the events of the century after Idrisi’s death. The novel proper just broke off, leaving one significant hanging thread unresolved.
So as background on Sicilian history of the period it’s a good book. But overall, disappointing.