Review: The Lioness of Morocco by Julia Drosten
I had only mediocre hopes for this novel, which I selected at no charge as a Kindle First offering from a very poor field of novels. This was simply the least unenticing of the six books, by my tastes, anyway, that we were offered for May.
Once I began reading it, however, I was taken by the story. Its setting on the Atlantic Coast of Africa instead of the usual Mediterranean port or Marrakech made for a promising start. The author had obviously done a lot of research on the history of the area and culture of the period. She then folded it (almost) seamlessly into her tale of a daring Victorian woman.
From her first bold escape from stodgy, propriety-laden London to 'frontier' life in Morocco, however, Sibylla Hopkins's expressions of rebellion devolve into wardrobe and footwear choices. The repetition of situations and descriptions begins to grate after the first section of the story, while a hypocritically sympathetic treatment of harems and their isolation of women (echoing the Victorian purdah Sibylla escaped in London) grows from merely irritating to disturbing.
Over and over, Sibylla retreats from her initial daring vision and (outwardly) chooses the course of propriety, keeping her "improper" behavior in the shadows. While realistic for women of the time, this is not what is implied by the book's title, and so I was disapointed—the more so because, after reading the first section, I had already revised expectations upward from an original lack of enthusiasm.
At the end, I was wincing over the wimpy behavior of the "lioness" whose moniker, it became clear, was a reference to her blond hair, and had nothing to do with courage, command, or boldness.