Published by Doubleday
Publication date: July 28th 2015
Miranda is a free-spirited artist and explorer living in Mazrooq, a country that is not open to either. That she also has a girlfriend makes her the most suspect of women, right up until she meets Finn, the British ambassador who steals her heart and gives her a life considered by all around her to be safe and normal. This not a romance novel—far from it. It is Jennifer Steil’s gripping new novel The Ambassador’s Wife and in it she explores issues central to the Middle East but ranging far beyond that areas’ physical boundaries and into the characters’ interior landscapes. After Miranda marries Finn she adapts to the diplomatic lifestyle of protocol, protection, and etiquette. Much of the freedom she enjoyed living in the city ends, but she now has a level of luxury, safety and privacy she’s never had before. When she becomes a mother it feels even easier to shed her past. Right up until she is kidnapped and then her past is present again.
Author Jennifer Steil makes much use of secrets as a device in The Ambassador’s Wife. In part there is the simple fact of Miranda’s bohemian lifestyle before she meets Finn. Despite living in a repressive Islamic country she has a girlfriend and paints nudes. Then there are the secret art classes she teaches to a small group of Mazrooqi young women. What would be of no consequence to us is something that puts each of these women in mortal danger, not just leaving their homes unescorted and expressing their creative selves, but painting, drawing, and sculpting the human form. Finn, too, has a secret, a much darker one from his previous posting in Afghanistan and one he knows is known by another person. Steil lays bare all of these as each character scrutinizes their past for possible clues to where Miranda was taken and why.
Steil superbly blends the very real tension of being kidnapped with the psychology of the region in The Ambassador’s Wife. Even as Miranda spends days and weeks confined in small dark stone rooms, isolated and with limited food and water, the people who love her are risking their lives to try and find her. Despite their fear of reprisal, of being questioned or noticed the young women she’s been nurturing reach out to their network of family members and relatives even though the area is controlled by warring tribes and united in a hatred of Americans. Steil conveys the depth of their fears through Miranda
It didn’t occur to them that they could change things. She had forgotten the learned passivity of a people accustomed to their powerlessness. She had forgotten their religious fatalism. She had forgotten that for them, change had always been violent.
The Ambassador’s Wife works on the action of the kidnapping plot and the political intrigue alone but it is layering in Miranda’s introspection as she awaits either death or release that moves the novel from thriller into something much deeper. As she is pushed to her mental and emotional limits her thoughts as an artist, new mother, wife, and friend take flight through Steil’s thoughtful prose. There is suspense until the last page but it is only one facet of this richly textured novel.