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The Ruby in Her Navel: A Novel of Love and Intrigue in the 12th Century    by Barry Unsworth Amazon.com order for
Ruby in Her Navel
by Barry Unsworth
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

We enter the realm of the Kingdom of Sicily in the spring of 1149; a place known previously for its peaceful co-mingling of Christian and Jew, Arab and Greek. However, the reign of King Roger of Sicily is proving to be precarious, full of court intrigue and vicious sniping between the various factions particularly the Franks and Normans, reeling from their recent defeat and the fall of Jerusalem in the last crusade, against the Muslims.

Thurston Beauchamp is himself an outsider, born in England as the son of a Saxon mother and a landless Norman knight. Due to family circumstances, Thurston finds himself in need of employment, and through hard work obtains a position as assistant to the well respected Arab, Yusef. Thurston's loyalty to his king, and the fact that he has no other political allegiance, makes him the ideal candidate to seek out the conspiracies being hatched against his monarch.

His mission becomes fogged by the presence of two women - Nesrin the Dancer, and Alicia, a young widow he loved as an adolescent and a woman with whom he is still infatuated. Thurston's feelings for Alicia pull him into an emotional quagmire, one he cannot escape without hurting those he most respects, without forsaking his own moral standards, without breaking trusts.

The Ruby in Her Navel is a book of intrigue and double cross, where we see the break-up of a once peaceful coexistence of different religions and ethnicities through greed and avarice, a portal to the problems that modern society is facing. Here there is the need to follow the cause rather than one's own moral guidance, and Thurston is unwittingly caught in the struggle.

This was indeed an exciting read; Barry Unsworth introduces an era of history that is little known to the vast majority of the populace and weaves an intriguing web of deceit, love and loyalty within the framework of the Middle Ages.

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