Book Review

Review: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

To be honest, I thought I was going to get slightly more out of this one. The story twines together that of an American Muslim who adores art history and is on a quest to find a missing Delacroix painting. This leads her to Alexandre Dumas and to a mysterious woman with raven tresses. Alongside this is Leila’s story, whose identity has been both lost and immortalised in a poem by Byron two hundred years previously. I just feel I should have liked it more than I did …

About the Book

Title: Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know
Author: Samira Ahmed
Pages: 320
Publisher: Atom – Little, Brown Book Group UK
Publication Date: 27th August 2020
Ownership: e-ARC provided by the publisher

Rating: 3.5 stars


Lovingly set in Paris, by an author who knows the streets and sights of the city well, and with a plot of fun art history investigation, I just know I should enjoyed reading this book so much more.

Instead, we meet Khayyam, who has suffered academic embarrassment at the age of 17 and feels as though her life is over. She returns to Paris to find out where she went wrong. There, she meets Alexandre, great-great something grandson of the writer Dumas, who seems to think her failed art history theory might actually be on to something. They begin a romance of sorts whilst breaking into buildings, destroying antiques and destroying any sense of object provenance.

Can you tell I’m an archaeologist/historian?

But not only does this give strength to Khayyam’s academic argument that Dumas may have had a lost Delacroix painting, but it also begins to unveil the story of a woman forgotten by history. And I loved this side of the art history mystery – of finding someone apparently unimportant who had her own story to tell. And for Khayyam she is even more important because of her shared heritage. Leila’s link with Byron is also the source of the novel’s title, although I suspect this was more due to how fun the descriptor is, rather than its direct relevance to the story…

I also found Leila’s chapters, as this forgotten woman a bit bland. They should have been full of excitement and fear and adventure, but instead were all mopey, because they were just occasional glimpses into her life.

They weren’t as bland as Khayyam’s love interests, though, which is also an interesting thing to add into a book that is apparently all about empowerment, but it did frame an interesting question about taking credit for research. Alexandre was the stereotypical charming Frenchman, who took her on romantic picnics. Zaid was the unfinished past boyfriend that Khayyam was still agonising over. And it sometimes felt that this agonising over boys took precedence over the actual history – time that I would have preferred spending with Leila.

But what this book did offer was a lovely insight into French culture, shared heritage and marginalised figures in history, with a slow-burning academic research mystery in the background.

I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


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