Born to the Byzantine ambassador, Michael, and a Persian princess, Najila is a spirited and intelligent young Persian woman whose concerns stretch no farther than mischievous pranks. But then her father is called back to his native city of Konstantinoupolis, and, of course, his motherless Najila must go with him. When Michael is killed in a rockslide on the trip back, Najila’s life takes an interesting turn. Alone except for her aging nurse and a tough Viking bodyguard of her father's, she must reclaim the family estate from a grasping and treacherous relative—and decide what to do with his attractive son. Torn between conflicting emotions and conflicting faiths, where will Najila turn?
It’s a promising opening for C. J. Illinik’s second book, Najila. Telling the story of a young woman reared in a cross-cultural, cross-faith home has plenty of potential. Well-rounded characters and rich, historical detail promise entertainment, far-away places, and exotic settings.
Unfortunately, the book fails to live up to its total potential. Illinik’s writing style is cumbersome at times and full of too many Latinate words; it also suffers from terms markedly out of the historical context, such as “fetus” and “meters.” Historical passages and footnotes, while interesting, slow the story and break it up needlessly, and much of the dialogue sounds stilted and unnatural. Illinik uses foreign words and unusual spellings like Konstantinoupolis to convey a sense of place, but the explanations are uneven and often clumsy.
Handled in an equally clumsy manner are the romantic relationships. Najila’s primary love interest, Loukios, is rather dull. The giant Viking Odin is far more interesting, caring deeply for his charge Najila, and his conflicted emotions—love for Najila while understanding that Loukios would be a “smarter” match—are beautifully drawn. But Illinik lets this promising, if unusual, relationship with Odin fade away, and Najila marries Loukios. Another love conflict in the form of a young monk is introduced, but also fades without having its full potential tapped.
The biggest problem, though, is that the plot wanders. Illinik takes an almost biographical approach, chronicling Najila’s life from birth to death. Whereas there’s nothing wrong with this, per se, it results in little coherency, a lack of conflict, and no distinct resolution. Najila simply ends when Najila dies. Even this fault could be forgiven if the book was a vast and intricate tapestry, but it’s not. Illinik has plenty of potential in her story, but she doesn’t use it. Elements that would seem to be central to the book—an amber-encased dragonfly introduced in the prologue, the breeding of chariot horses—turn out to have little or no significance. The rival love interests simply fall by the wayside. Even Najila’s inner conflict between her father’s Christianity and her mother’s Islamic faith falls flat.
In sum, Najila is not an awful book and not even a bad book, but I’ve read much better. If you want a good historical romance, this probably won't be at the top of your list. -- Rachel Niehaus, Christian Book Previews.com
A sequel to the compelling novel The Tablets of Ararat, Najila continues the story of the independent, assertive eleventh-century Persian princess whose heart is torn between two faiths.