“It is August in Paris and budding art historian Khayyam should be having the time of her life – but even in the City of Lights she can’t stop worrying about the mess she left back home in Chicago. Only when she meets a cute young Parisian – who happens to be a distant relative of the novelist Alexandre Dumas – do things start to get interesting, as she starts to unveil the story of a 19th century Muslim woman whose path may have intersected with Dumas, Eugène Delacroix and Lord Byron. Two hundred years earlier in the Ottoman empire, Leila is the most favoured woman in the Pasha’s harem. Her position is meant to be coveted; but she is struggling to survive as she fights to keep her true love hidden from her jealous captor. Echoing across centuries, as Khayyam uncovers the scintillating truth of Leila’s long-forgotten life, her own destiny is transformed forever.” (Amazon)
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my e-copy of this book.
Review of Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed
My rating: 4.5/5
Samira Ahmed’s Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know is one of the loveliest YA romances I have read this year. Because it’s actually so much more than that. The book is so rich.
Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know incorporates the elements of romance, mystery and historical fiction. Set Paris during the summer months, the main storyline follows Khayyam, a young girl from Chicago, whose roots surpass that of US. She is American, and French, and Indian, and Muslim, and her identity is clearly defined by all of those countries, cultures and religions. Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know follows Khayyam as she tries to uncover the two-century-old mystery, while also exploring her identity and figuring out what she wants and who she really is.
I loved the beginning of the book, with the first sentence so clearly setting up the narrative of the whole book. ‘I live in between spaces,’ Khayyam tells us in the introduction. Since those beginning pages, I have been drawn to the story. It’s her story, her voice, and you can clearly see echoes of all of her roots throughout the narrative.
Khayyam is spending the summer in Paris, with her academics-parents, worrying about the unresolved mess she has left back in Chicago. Brooding over the boy she has left at home and still being upset over failed art history essay that was meant to guarantee her place at college, she doesn’t expect this summer to change her life. But then she meets a Parisian, a descendant of famous Alexandre Dumas, and together they set off to uncover a forgotten story of Leila, a Muslim woman whose path intertwined with Dumas, Delacroix and Byron.
We see the glimpse of Leila’s story both through Khayyam and Alexandre’s discoveries and the short chapters incorporating the narration from Leila’s perspective, seeing her story in the 19th century. In the beginning, I wasn’t completely sure whether I liked this interchanging narration, preferring to uncover Leila’s story with both young historians in making, but I grew to enjoy it. Through that, we witness Leila’s story almost as it has been happening now, giving it a sense of immediacy as well as underlying the importance of it, because we know that Leila has been forgotten in the history. She has slipped away, being nothing more than a footnote in a man’s story until Khayyam and Alexandre’s exploration into Alexandre’s family’s past.
Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know had a lot of elements of classic YA summer romance, with feelings developing between Khayyam and Alexandre, and the complications that have arisen as a result of their private lives. But while those parts have been unavoidably obvious, they added to the story. And I must say, I liked the ending. Without giving it away, it seemed more realistic than the most YA romances, especially with characters living a thousand miles away. But it still remained hopeful.
I really have enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to more works by Samira Ahmed. She has a great voice and style, and I will definitely read more of her books.
Who is the book for: I would recommend Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know to anyone looking for a good YA mystery with a romance element and those looking for a light-hearted read that touches on more serious matters as well. You can get your copy here. I will definitely hunt for a paperback when it’s out on 27th August!