What? You’ve never heard of the legendary pirate, Amina Al-Sirafi? Whose gold-toothed smile and enormous figure was the last thing seen by who-knows-how-many men? The nakhudha of the infamous ship, the Marawati, which roamed the Indian Ocean, stealing horses from the Emir of Hormuz, and setting fire to the customs house in Basrah, and poisoning an entire feast in Mombasa?
And who, of course, had the audacity to be a woman.
But now Amina Al-Sirafi has retired, or perhaps merely gone into hiding. She has a leaky house to maintain, and both an aging mother and a ten-year-old daughter to care for. She has a bad knee. Her trusted crew are either dead or likewise retired. Her ship is getting by, doing routine trading (smuggling and only a little piracy) and she has not been on it for years. She does not miss her old life. At all. Really.
Which is why she protests when forced to embark on a new and dangerous mission. But not very much. The story, told in her own irreverent and cynical words, unfolds as most adventures do. There are sorcerers, sea monsters, storms, and ancient legends brought to life. There is an alliance with an island of mythical creatures and a treacherous demon possibly-not-ex-husband. But underlying all of it is worry about her daughter and true concern for the lives of her crew, informed by the triumphs and tragedies of their shared past.
Amina Al-Sirafi is one of the best “strong female protagonists” I have read. She is an indomitable fighter, courageous and fearsome. But the way she chooses to fight, and what she chooses to fight for, is all female. She is lusty, foul-mouthed, contrary, stupidly brave, and without a doubt a woman.