The Sword of Medina
In 7th-century Arabia, the Prophet Muhammad is dead, and the Muslim umma is left to muddle on as best it can. The Prophet’s child bride A’isha must remain faithful to her departed husband the rest of her life and try to exercise her influence in the direction of the new faith—for no one knew God’s Apostle better than she, and her father Abu Bakr is the first right-guided khalifa. Her obvious foil, and point of view for the other half of the chapters in this tale, is Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s son-in-law and father of his only living male descendants who would also claim the leadership. Here is the source of the Sunni-Shi’a schism we see today and, hence, important reading.
Jones made history with her first novel, which told the love story between young A’isha and the much older man her father marries her to at the age of nine. Fear of terrorist repercussions for, as some said, turning the relationship between A’isha and her prophet husband into a tawdry romance caused much publicity. I haven’t read the first volume, although having done so might have helped enjoyment of this offering. The story is here, but I felt I was skimming over much of this rich material in a journalistic Apache gunship—but maybe that’s what the subject requires for western readers. A’isha has her medicine bag, but it just appears when someone has need of it. Perhaps the first volume saw her come into her healing skills in a way we could feel for. The jumble of ill-drawn wives in the first chapter might also have been helped. I didn’t really get drawn in until Ali made an appearance, with his believable love for his Fatima. The Battle of the Camel makes a fine climax—but I wish its details had been drawn from the beginning.