HarperCollins, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0062194976, November 2014
In the unforgiving Mesopotamian desert where Jayden’s tribe lives, betrothal celebrations abound, and tonight it is Jayden’s turn to be honored. But while this union with Horeb, the son of her tribe’s leader, will bring a life of riches and restore her family’s position within the tribe, it will come at the price of Jayden’s heart. Then a shadowy boy from the Southern Lands appears. Handsome and mysterious, Kadesh fills Jayden’s heart with a passion she never knew possible. But with Horeb’s increasingly violent threats haunting Jayden’s every move, she knows she must find a way to escape—or die trying. With a forbidden romance blossoming in her heart and her family’s survival on the line, Jayden must embark on a deadly journey to save the ones she loves—and find a true love for herself.
While the plot breaks bupkis in the way of new ground in historical fiction–girl meets boy, boy and girl fall in love, but girl is already betrothed to a giant jerk–Forbidden boasts an unusual location for YA historicals, a romance you’ll root for, and plenty of belly dancing. Little uses just enough historical detail to set the scene, keeping it to more of a pleasure read than a deep exploration of another time and place. No boring politics here, just brutal desert conditions, camel rides, and sexy dancing in goddess temples. The heroine, if somewhat of a hand-wringer, is thoroughly developed and caught in a genuinely tough situation.
On the downside, Jayden’s betrothed makes for a rather one-note villain, cruel and power-mad. Little missed a chance to flesh him out, although making him too sympathetic could have turned this into yet another love triangle in a saturated market. Likewise, the female character Jayden begs to nurse her little sister after their mother dies in childbirth is sour and unsympathetic. A couple of quickie plot devices at the end steer what feels like a standalone into a cliffhanger ending, and the reader can see the ghost of a more permanent ending floating behind the setup for volume two.
Recommend to: Romance and historical fic fans
To buy or not to buy: A great choice for public library YA collections; probably a bit thin to pair with any social studies units.