Secret of the Sands – Sara Sheridan

18 May 2011

She was a slave. He was her master. Both of them long to be free…

1833 – The British Navy are conducting a survey of the Arabian Peninsula where slavery is as rife as ever despite being abolition. Zena, a headstrong and determined young Abyssinian beauty has been torn from her remote village, subjected to a tortuous journey and is now being offered for sale in the market of Muscat.

Lieutenant James Wellstead is determined that his time aboard HMS Palinurus will be the conduit to fame and fortune. However, all his plans are thrown into disarray when two of his fellow officers go missing while gathering intelligence in the desert.

By an unexpected twist of fate – Zena finds herself the property of Wellstead, now on a daring rescue mission into forbidding territory. Master and slave are drawn ever closer, but as danger faces them at every turn, they must endure heartache and uncertainty – neither of them knowing what fortune awaits them as they make their hazardous way through the shifting sands…

When the lovely Sara Sheridan (thank you!) gave me the opportunity to review her latest book, I jumped at the chance as I have a huge respect for not just her writerly skills, which are formidable but also her true passion for history and dedication to creating an authentic world for her characters, especially as they actually existed.

Now, I will admit that my preference when it comes to historical fiction is for rather mannered tales of European high society in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries so Secret of the Sands was a bit of a departure for me as it is set in Arabia in the 1830s! However, within just a few pages I was gripped by the tale of the lovely Zena and Lieutenant James Wellstead as their very different lives collided and then entwined.

Sara’s writing is so beautiful and evocative that this book was like a gorgeous, balmy trip to an exotic and unknown land – I could almost feel the sand beneath my feet, the warmth of the desert air and the scent of coconut, exotic oils and the sea.

I was a huge fan of the novels of the amazing MM Kaye when I was growing up and this book really reminded me of them as it has the same tempestuous, passionate romance at its heart and a strong and vibrant connection to a different place and time. I am now hunting for my copy of Shadow of the Moon, which I think is a worthy follow up!

In summary – an incredible book and a must read for fans of historical fiction. In fact, I found myself thinking that this would be top of my reading list for anyone who thinks they don’t like historical fiction because they think it’s all about fainting girls, ripped bodices and stiff lipped aristocratic pin up boys as it has real heart and soul to it.

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