February 12, 2014

Review: The Tyrant's Daughter

The Tyrant's Daughter By J.C. Carleson
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

Laila, her mother, and her younger brother are sharing a small apartment in America.  They fled their home country following Laila's father's death in a coup.  He was the leader of their country, the king (as Laila understood it).  Now, they have to find a way to survive in a new country with few of their old connections.

I loved Laila's point of view.  She's just at the right age to really start questioning her parents, and of course any normal teenage issues are compounded by the questions of just who her parents are.  Was her father a king or a dictator?  That's the obvious question, but many questions arise about her mother too.  Laila has access to information and people she never would've encountered in her home, but she knows how hard it is to get the full picture.  After all, she's been blind to it her whole life.

Much of THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER deals with the culture clash Laila experiences.  Sometimes I wish things were clarified more.  For instance, it becomes clear that Laila isn't religious, but it still takes awhile to figure out why she leaves wearing a veil behind immediately.  (Especially when one of the book's early passages dwells on the benefits of a veil.)  Or, when Laila remembers her mom removing layer after layer on a flight to France, there's no indication of whether Laila changed her appearance too.  However, I thought THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER did a nice job of not demonizing Laila's culture while illuminating flaws and restrictions she never noticed before because she had never experienced anything else.  Plus, not all American culture is presented as good.

There's quite a bit going on in THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER.  There's the aforementioned culture clash in addition to espionage and a romance.  Laila's country remains unnamed and is obviously made up, based on a variety of real places.  But there's a nice level of detail to the politics, believably curtailed by Laila's own naivety and lack of experience.  There's a nice amount of material in the back about J.C. Carleson's research and good nonfiction to read afterwards.

I thought THE TYRANT'S DAUGHTER was absorbing.  It was just the right length.  I thoroughly enjoyed Laila's journey and felt for her as she searched for the truth and tried to do the right thing, all while trying to build a new life for herself.   Sometimes the high school stuff was a bit bland, but it was saved by Laila's through self-examination.  She's a memorable narrator.


  1. This sounds like a fascinating story! I'm glad the author does a good job of not demonizing or praising either Laila's country's traditions and culture and/or American culture. It sounds like the culture clash was done with an even hand. I have a copy of this and now I'm more excited to read it. Great review!

    1. Yeah, I was worried about the culture balance, but I thought it worked.

  2. Excellent review! I waited to read yours until I'd drafted my review, which I'll publish in March for my blogger book review club. I was reluctant to read this book until I saw that the author had spent time in the Middle East working for the CIA. That part was marvelous. I agree that the American high school part was not as good.

    1. Yeah, I had trouble with some of the high school bits. I liked that Laila did seem to regularly go to school.


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