Isra al-Grayjaa has dreamed of this moment. For quite some time, his every dream has been filled with this man — the breadth of his shoulders, the black of his hair, the line of his jaw, even down to the worn and ragged hem of his white robes. Isra never thought he’d meet the man in person, that the dreaming figure he’d reached for would be standing right in front of him, made of flesh and blood rather than starlight and longing. While isra, perhaps, thought he might be able to fall in love, he never once thought that the man of his dreams would need Isra to save his life.
“Janan” has no name, no memory, and no money. Begging on the streets for scraps of food, going through refuse piles for anything left behind, he doesn’t know if he has a family or friends who might be missing him, maybe looking for him. He doesn’t even remember coming to the city of Qena. When Janan meets Isra, despite everything, for the first time he feels a connection, a sense of rightness and belonging. There is something about the handsome Bedouin in front of him that makes Janan no longer care, quite so much, about his hidden past. Not when there’s a chance of having Isra in his future.
The amnesia trope isn’t one of my favorites because it’s a tricky gimic and needs careful handling. When done poorly, it can be uncomfortable to read, as it can easily turn into one character taking advantage of the other. However, when done well, it adds a dash of mystery and becomes more of a story about a character finding out the truth about themselves, a truth they might not otherwise have had the courage to discover.
Isra is a Bedouin. He has, as is required of all of the men of his tribe, spent two years in the army. He is living in the desert because he loves it — the simplicity, the freedom, and the connection it gives him to his god. He lives with his brother and his brother’s wives and children. His brother would dearly love to see Isra married, not because they need more children (though that’s always a plus), but because he wants Isra to have someone to love him. It’s part of why they go to Qena; one, to sell goats and sheep and two, to get Isra a wife.
Isra may not be complex, but he’s far from simple. His mother was a desert shaman who left after he was born, though neither his brother, his father’s other wives, nor his tribe have ever shown him anything but love an affection. It’s in part due to this that Isra is able to share that love with others, most notably, the being called Flicker, who happens to be an arafrit — djinn, ifrit, genie — who would, if asked, grant Isra almost any wish. The only thing Isra has ever asked Flicker for, though, his is friendship.
Janan is uncertain if he’s a good man or a bad one. He knows he can read, and loves to read, he knows that he came from a soft living, as his feet — over the month of living on the streets of Qena — have toughened up from walking barefoot over sand and stone. He’s miserable, but still determined to hang on as long as he can. When he meets Isra there’s obviously a strong attraction and Janan is willing to work hard to make himself not only useful, but worthy of the friendship Isra and his brother are offering him.
I don’t want to give away the plot too much, but there are parts of this book that are so well handled I think they deserve a mention. Isra wants Janan, and Janan wants him, but Isra won’t even kiss him because there might be someone in Janan’s life — a wife, a girlfriend, maybe even a boyfriend — and it would be wrong to cause them pain. Isra isn’t going to take advantage of Janan like that, even if they both wish him to. When Flicker grants Janan some small glimpse at his lost memories, Janan is able to reassure both Isra and himself that there’s no one else in his life. Only at that time do they kiss, and more than kiss. It’s sweet, it’s honorable, and kind of romantic.
The second part that really made me appreciate this book was the ending. When Janan’s memories come back and he and Isra have to face the future, Janan doesn’t ask Isra to give up his life for him any more than Isra would ask Janan to give up his life. Instead, they work to find a way for both of them to have what they want. Sometimes in the desert, sometimes not; sometimes together, sometimes apart; but always as equals as well as lovers. I loved the ending. Neither character lessened themselves or made the other lesser for their own benefit.
This is a quick, light story that is both well written and entertaining. The world building is a little lacking; while there’s much detail about the desert, the arafrit, the city, and Janan’s world are only sketched in. Neither character either grows or changes; they start as good men, and end the same. It’s a perfect read if you’re in the mood for a fun story with a sweet happily ever after and absolutely no angst in sight.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.