ARC review: The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

The Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Goodreads • Amazon
Publication Date: February 11, 2014
Source: ARC from publisher (via Netgalley)

From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.

When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.

Laila is a princess. Her little brother, six-year-old Bastien, is next in line for the throne. Or so she thinks. It’s what she’s been lead to believe her entire life. But when her father, leader of an unnamed Middle Eastern country, is assassinated, Laila’s world is turned upside down. The CIA relocates her, Bastien, and their mother to the US, where they are expected to assimilate into the completely foreign culture.

In America, Laila lives a different life. The palace she had lived in is replaced with a tiny apartment. The servants bringing her food have been replaced with empty cupboards. Her private tutors have been replaced with public school. Back home, she was royalty. In America, her family can’t even keep up with the rent.

Laila thought she knew everything, but she had been sheltered. She’d been steadily fed a stream of lies about her family. In America, she finds, the internet is unrestricted. Unfiltered. She finds an article calling her father a dictator. She finds out that he was responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people. She is no princess. Her brother will not be king. Her entire life has been a lie.

The Tyrant’s Daughter was an incredible story. I read a few chapters before bed on a Thursday, came home from work on Friday night, and devoured the rest. Everybody should read this book. It’s one thing to hear about Middle Eastern conflicts on the news. It’s another thing entirely to read a fictional book, told through the eyes of a teenage girl, that perfectly illustrates what nobody wants to think about. This book tackles serious issues – war, racism, and women’s rights, just to name a few – and does it in such a way that you don’t even realize that you’re learning.

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

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I bought Leviathan a good year or two ago. Unlike most people, I really enjoyed Westerfeld’sUglies series, though I read it nine years ago, when it first came out and I was still in high school. I wanted to immerse myself in another world he’d created. He’s good at creating worlds entirely unlike our own, but not so different that they’re unrelatable.

Things happened over the last year or two. Other books caught my attention. I moved across the country. Leviathan fell to the back of my mind and the back of my bookshelf. I remembered that I had it last week. I read it over four days.

I wanted to like it more than I did.

Again, Westerfeld created a beautiful world. The Clankers and the Darwinists, with their Walkers and their Beasties. Huge, living air ships. Entire ecosystems of animals working together. The characters were likable too. Deryn was a believable girl-disguised-as-boy who never fell into any of the common traps or tropes that come along with it. Alek had beautiful character development, going from an insolent teenage boy who thinks he deserves the world to a real soldier, fighting for what he thinks is right. Even the side characters were great. And the setting – we’re in a re-imagined, steampunk version of WWI.

But despite all this, the book somehow lacks a plot. Descriptions abound. Action does not. Our characters, who supposedly are in their mid-teens, occasionally act like small children. Was it actually written for a much younger audience? I’m not sure. Maybe it just wasn’t my kind of book. My biggest question throughout the book was when someone was going to finally find out that Deryn/Dylan was a girl.

I liked Leviathan enough to finish it, but not enough to read the next book in the series.

Final rating: 

[also posted here]