cover image Blood and Ink

Blood and Ink

Stephen Davies. Charlesbridge Teen, $17.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-58089-790-7

Based on actual events, this potent novel set in 2012 Timbuktu chronicles the clash between Islamic extremism and Sufi culture in Mali. The narration alternates between two strongly sketched protagonists, both members of the Fulani tribe: Ali, a radicalized Defender of Faith (a branch of al-Qaeda), and Kadija, an intelligent 15-year-old whose father helps guard precious ancient manuscripts. The two teenagers’ lives intersect when the radicals infiltrate Timbuktu, and although Ali and Kadija initially hate each other, their relationship evolves into a forbidden and romantically charged friendship. Amid these fictional characters looms one real-life figure: Redbeard, an infamously cruel commander of the extremist army. Davies (Hacking Timbuktu), who lived among the Fulani for more than a decade as a missionary, captures the psychological hold Redbeard wields over his young soldiers while highlighting the religious fervor of the movement; an afterword provides valuable context into the conflict and the (few) liberties Davies took in his fictionalization. Fragments of the manuscripts, interspersed throughout, offer glimpses of historical Arabic scholarship but also interrupt the pace of what’s otherwise a tense, relevant story. Ages 12–up. Agent: Julia Churchill, A.M. Heath. (Sept.)