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A Captive in Algiers by A.J Lewis explores the themes of slavery, freedom, resilience in persecution, strength in hardship, cultural diversity, and the power of strong bonds that require sacrifices. The book’s setting revolves around the lesser-known aspect of the slave trade in North Africa, although it is presented in a fictional manner.
The story revolves around Ettore, a clever and resourceful Italian orphan boy. Unable to work as a fisherman due to his young age, Ettore discovers an alternative means of making money by becoming a guide for tourists and visitors in Amalfi. However, his desire for wealth leads him to be captured while entertaining a visitor on a cruise. Faced with various challenges, including harsh elements, Ettore fights for survival and forms a deep bond with his fellow captives. This bond ultimately transforms him.
I was truly amazed by the authenticity of the fictional scenario depicted in this book. A.J. Lewis demonstrated remarkable skill in crafting a compelling and gripping adventure that was both relatable and easy to follow. It is a story that will stay with me long after reading it, as it stood out for its choice of a protagonist who defied the traditional mould of a macho hero or a character with extraordinary combat abilities. Instead, we meet a young boy who effortlessly captures our hearts, even amid captivity. The book also kept us engaged with thought-provoking questions that kept us intrigued until the very last page. Overall, it was an exceptional piece of work.
Critiquing a book of this calibre proves to be a challenge. Even as someone who typically gravitates towards supernatural fiction, I found myself completely captivated by the adventure story presented. Such was its allure that I am even considering delving into the second book of the series. The book stood out for its exceptional editing and absence of errors, showcasing a high level of attention to detail.
I recommend this book to a diverse audience interested in historical fiction, adventure stories, and thought-provoking themes such as resilience and the power of bonds.
Without hesitation, I gave this book a rating of 5 out of 5 stars for their remarkable work. This accolade is primarily attributed to the writer’s commendable achievement in maintaining consistency between their fictional narrative and the historical backdrop of the slave trade. Additionally, the valuable lessons that can be gleaned from the experiences of young Ettore further contribute to the book’s excellence.
When we first meet our hero, his name is Ettore and he lives at The House of Beautiful Swallows. Idyllic as this might sound, it’s a bordello and Ettore’s mother died when he was born. He’s not been short of mothers, though – but for someone of his background in late-eighteenth-century Amalfi, it’s difficult to obtain decent employment. The stint working with the preparation of anchovies didn’t work out and bastards are considered bad luck on fishing boats. Ettore was nothing if not resourceful – and determined – and it was not long before he had a successful business as a guide for visitors. He was even saving some money.
We know all this because author AJ Lewis tells us about the time capsule, the contents of which told his family history and particularly the story of Muhammad Mawla Jafar al-Amalfi, Chief Commissioner of the Hinterlands of Algiers, his father’s great, great grandfather. It’s these documents which have formed the basis for the ten-volume series of Muhammed Amalfi mysteries.
When you’re at the beginning of a ten-volume series, it’s not unusual to find that the first book simply sets the scene for what’s to follow. That doesn’t happen in A Captive in Algiers. Ettore ‘borrows’ a boat to take one of his clients out to a ship one evening, without having due regard for the weather and finds that they’re blown dramatically off course. What follows is a brilliant sea-going thriller and a great evocation of the privations of being caught at sea with little in the way of provisions. Logically, I knew that it was going to work out for Ettore, if not for the other two people in the boat, but I still couldn’t put the book down. I’d been rooting for Ettore right from the beginning of the book, even if he wasn’t always completely honest.
That sense of time and place is true throughout the book, from the anchovy shed (oh, the smell: it lingered…) through to the conditions in Algiers. There’s sufficient about the historical context too but not so much that you feel every bit of research has been shoehorned in. If I have one minor quibble about the book, it’s that the sub-title led me to expect a mystery when this is probably better described as a thriller – but that’s me being very picky.
I’d like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to the Bookbag: it’s been a real pleasure to read and I can’t wait to hear what happens to Ettore next.
I’d like to compare these novels to others I’ve read, but I can’t. The Muhammad Amalfi Mysteries are adventures set in the most exotic and inaccessible of societies. The books are murder mysteries, too. But those responsible for finding the culprits have no tools other than their wits; and they’d better come up with answers that satisfy the Dey. They are court room dramas in courts presided over by cadis appointed for their erudition in religious law and empowered by the Dey to be judge, jury and, if necessary, executioner in his name. Unless, of course, the Dey decides to take the law into his own hands, which is sort of ridiculous because in 1790s Algiers, the Dey is the law! Every page in these novels is a revelation where the incredible comes to life. You know the old saying about history being stranger than fiction. How about fiction that is no stranger to history?
AJ Lewis opened a door on the home of the bad boys of the Mediterranean and I couldn’t be more amazed at how like us today these very different people from those very distant times could actually be. How the young man from an altogether alien culture could survive and then thrive in the city of pirates makes an amazing story on its own. But his exploration of the city, the people from all over the world he encounters there, the intrigue in the courtroom, the adventures in the winding alleys of the casbah, the thrilling escapes, and how he manages to escape the wrath of the impulsive and unpredictable Dey; All of these make for real page-turners.
There are surprises, musings, new perspectives, and observations. There are secrets, deceit, greed, and fear. The author does a great job with the historical period and place, as well as with emotions and motives. It is driven by passion, has deep insights worth pondering, and has a lot to offer.
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