Verdict: Adventurous and full of creativity, A FOREIGN SHORE is fairly readable and wonderfully sardonic.
A teenage girl runs away from her family and ends up taking part in world-changing events, dressed as a man and marching with an army of foreign invaders.
Raeesha’s father has arranged a marriage with a local Amir, which she refuses. In running away from her family, she goes one step further than most: she cuts off most of her hair and disguises herself as a boy. Just at that moment, her homeland is being invaded by a coalition of different faraway nations, and a general in their armies is in need of a boy to bear his army’s standard. A boy like her.
Author Forrest Johnson’s A FOREIGN SHORE, the first volume in the Clothes Make The Man series, is hard to sum up easily. For a book ostensibly about that lovable cross-dressing girl BS’ing her way into an invading army, Raeesha features surprisingly little in both the plot of the book and even the text itself, her appearances dropping off considerably towards the book’s finale. A FOREIGN SHORE instead has a relatively eclectic ensemble cast, from the lovably snappy General Singer, to the witch’s apprentice Lamya, to a powerful sorcerer who has taken on the form of a giant centipede named Shayan, to Raeesha’s underappreciated brother Rajik.
But the book gets to a kind of an uncomfortable place when the reader reflects upon its real-world sociopolitical implications. Although the appendix at the end emphasizes the cultures in the book are only supposed to be vaguely inspired by real-world ones, it is nonetheless striking that all of the characters from the invaded Bandeluk lands have Arabic-sounding names, whereas the invaders have fairly European-sounding ones. Add this to the fact that Raeesha is targeted for an honor killing early in the book, and this whole thing can easily make the reader uncomfortable. But as the appendix stresses, the cultures depicted in this book are indeed quite a bit different from Western or Middle Eastern cultures, and once one gets far enough into the book, this becomes more and more obvious. It still does make for an unfortunate distraction, though.
A FOREIGN SHORE is a fun little YA adventure with funny dialogue, full of magic and intrigue. It’s a book, though, that’s at its best when it’s in its own fictional world, and less so when it accidentally imitates the stereotypes that haunt this one.
Adventurous and full of creativity, A FOREIGN SHORE is fairly readable and wonderfully sardonic.