There were many things I liked about this novel, one thing that was OK, one thing I loved, and one thing I hated.
The novel is as described above, a story about a group of concubines and their children who are taken to the desert and to be killed, and how they decide to make their own fates. It's written as a series of stories about the backgrounds and points of view of several characters, surrounded by the frame story of a librarian who is one of the main characters. It's not unlike the structure of 1001 Nights.
Most of it is done quite beautifully, and it's in a language that takes you away to this different world, except for two sections. One of the writers is responsible for both these sections, and I wish that they hadn't been included in the form they're in. It's because the style and focus is so jarring and wrong for the rest book that it turns what should be a cohesive whole into a mess that left this reader wondering what the heck they were thinking. These two sections felt like Jim Carrey had been dropped into the book to mug for a while using modern slang and idioms ("The legate [...] decided to dip his finger in the cookie jar. [...] Who could fault him if he carried out a little quality control testing? [...] What happens in the deep desert, stays in the deep desert. [...] he saluted and went off to find the little number, armed with her name"). This made me cringe reading it. And too, while other sections focus on the themes of the novel, these seem to focus somewhat crudely on men having sex with women, and were so very out of place. It's not a question of POV either, since the style is used outside of multiple POVs.
Luckily there are only two of these. The latter one was a self-contained section that can easily be skipped, though I read it all to make sure of that before making this recommendation. The first one, unfortunately, contains Zuleika's past and so must be read.
But outside of these two sections it was an interesting story, told in a myth-like manner, about women taking control of their destinies and making a mark that would last forever. I liked how, for the most part, it felt true to time and place. I liked that the change was all a result of their own decisions and community. I liked how the two instances of magic basically made them help themselves. I liked that it wasn't a bed of roses, though sometimes it came a little easily to them. But that's par in reading a legend, which is how this for the most part reads. Hardships aren't glossed over, but there's not a lot of time and attention spent on them especially in the first half to make them personal. I did come to care about all of the women, and read the book in one sitting.
What I loved: There are a few black and white illustrations in the novel at the end of sections that are stunningly beautiful. The artist truly captured the characters within, and they really added to my enjoyment of the whole. The artist is Nimit Malavia, and I urge you to seek out his work.