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The Ruby in Her Navel by Barry Unsworth
The Ruby in Her Navel is set in 12th-century Sicily, a multicultural society of Normans, Greeks, and Arabs, while the crusades raged in the Middle East. Thurstan Beauchamp was born a Norman boy in Yorkshire, but raised in Sicily. While he wants to be a knight, he finds himself working in the Diwan, the royal administration of the island. He's a naive young man mostly oblivious to the political intrigue that surrounds him. While on a mission for the king, he comes across a dance troupe and is enchanted by Nesrin, the dancer with the ruby in her navel. He brings the troupe back to Palermo, where he must navigate the fine line between his lust for Nesrin and his love for Lady Alicia, a childhood friend to whom he's been pledged. Thurstan gets drawn deeper not just into this intrigue, but also the struggles between Christians and Muslims, East and West, and honor and cruelty. Barry Unworth's novel has received positive reviews (and a Booker nomination) with The Observer saying, "A historical romance shorn of medieval flummery, a conspiracy thriller to shame lesser talents, The Ruby in Her Navel is far more than either. Delicately intricate in its construction and psychology, morally resonant and hugely satisfying, it is the work of a novelist at the height of his powers."