DiscoverHistorical Fiction

The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter


Worth reading 😎

An old-world tale of adventure and intrigue set during one of the most impressive engineering projects ever undertaken.

Salima is the Boatman’s daughter and assists her father in running the family freight-boat business. She is unusually self-possessed and capable for a sixteen-year-old, particularly at a time and in a culture where enterprising women were not highly regarded. Salima wants very much to attend school and learn about the outside world, but her father is most reluctant to lose her services.

The story is set in Egypt in the mid-1800s, and the back-drop is the building of the iconic Suez Canal. Salima is invited to interview for a job with the Egyptian government canal administration and only attends because they offer a substantial fee for undergoing the aptitude testing. To her great surprise, she and her newly-met friend, Emilie, are the two candidates chosen. Her job is to uncover and reclaim the many tonnes of equipment and resources that the prevailing corrupt system diverts into private hands. This is depriving the ongoing project operations of machinery and materials, and delaying the scheduled completion of the canal.

Salima’s fine reputation and network of industry contacts stand her in good stead as she, Emilie, and her collie-dog, Fadil, produce astonishing results. However, her success does not please certain factions who were profiteering greatly from the underhand dealings. This puts the trio in jeopardy.

The plots twists and turns, with action-packed boat journeys on the Nile River, thwarted kidnap attempts, and a visit to a long-lost treasure trove. The author goes to much effort to explain to the reader the international political situation, the intergovernmental tensions and agendas, and the mechanics of the project itself. He also beautifully describes the living conditions and culture of Salima’s time, and the physical beauty of the Egyptian countryside and waterways through which they pass.

I found the plot to be a little disjointed and occasionally confusing. Still, the author's writing style is flowing and natural, relevant to the time period. As the author explains, the illustrations were done by a number of artists, which gives the book multiple perspectives according to each illustrator's imagination. My only criticism is that the placement of the pictures within the text was not consistent with the storyline in some cases.

Altogether, The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter is an enjoyable way to pass a few hours. You will leave it knowing a great deal more about that time in history and how mankind can shape the world for those who follow.

Reviewed by

I live in Far North Queensland, Australia, with one husband, one dog, one real cat, and 68 cat ornaments. I write children's books about outback Australia.


Young Salima is a daughter of the Nile who longs to see the world. She feels trapped in her family’s barge business.

When an invitation arrives to join the Suez Canal effort, she answers the call. The Caliph’s men seek native Egyptian clerks to help stem a tide of corruption and inefficiency.

Salima quickly finds that the skills she has learned with the river people translate well to the organization of the Canal. She and her new friend Emilie are able to secure dozens of “lost” machines and components, and to correct widespread book-keeping discrepancies which threaten the great project. She gains a new contract for the fedayeen, her countrymen who slave to dig the Canal.

Powerful forces oppose the Canal’s successful completion. Salima and Emilie must flee up the Nile in the company of their handler Mikal, the young Dutch marine agent. In the Valley of the Kings, they meet a teenaged rebel leader (Khalid) and an eccentric archeologist (Elfriede). As relationships develop, a love triangle brings complications.

Richly illustrated edition of a young-adult historical fiction novella.

About the author

Tom Durwood is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. view profile

Published on October 27, 2020

Published by

20000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Historical Fiction

Reviewed by