Book Review: The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carlson

From a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.

When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.

*Bonus Backmatter includes a note about the author's CIA past, and a commentary by RAND researcher and president of ARCH International, Dr. Cheryl Benard. Recommendations for further reading are also included. 

Release Date: February 11, 2014
Age Group: YA
Source: Review copy from publisher
Reviewed By: Evan

I was excited to start this book. Considering I finished it the same day, I was not disappointed. 15 year old Laila, her mother, and 6 year old brother, flee the Middle East the night her father is assassinated in a coup. She and her family are relocated to America where they must quickly adapt to our culture. They are no longer royalty but lower class American immigrants.

It is impossible not to sympathize with Laila as she tries to reconcile the ways of her home land and those of ours. She is afraid but brave. Innocent, sheltered, and confused. An easy character to love. At one point she recalls how cereal was a luxury in her country. She says to herself, “Cereal isn’t a luxury you stupid fool, the boxes laugh at me”.  “Everything that was real there is not real here”. Comparisons like these reveal many things we take for granted as Americans.

Laila’s introduction to American schools and social structure is complicated to say the least. Luckily, the friendly Emmy takes her under wing. She tries to teach Laila the unwritten rules of our teenage society. Emmy also introduces Laila to American libraries and an unrestricted internet. This is a big deal; in her country any information released by sources outside the government is forbidden. It gives Laila a chance to read unfiltered reports documenting her family’s rule. Her research reveals secrets her mother is still keeping, a history filled with years of murder and oppression, and a monster of a man she knew only as a loving, protective father.

Laila tries to fit into her new life but quickly finds herself caught in the middle of what everyone else wants. Her mother schemes to regain power and make Laila’s brother ruler of their country. Old enemies may become new allies, IF Laila goes along with her mother’s plans. The CIA agent who rescued them reveals questionable and dangerous loyalties. This story will keep you guessing until the end.

The Tyrant's Daughter was a truly eye opening read. Loved it!


  1. The author states that the story is about the personal story of someone living on the periphery of war, grappling with the questions of guilt, choice, blame, and identity. I saw all of that in the book, and it was really amazing and very well-done in my opinion! She also states that it's a big story told in small details, and she hopes that readers come away feeling as if faraway issues are now a little more personal... Mission accomplished!! Amazing story!

  2. I totally agree and loved every part of the book. The characters were simple but well-rounded, and the plot thickened beautifully :)
    - Krys


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