I had just finished King James Seventh Company, the protagonist of which shares many qualities of my son – a bookkeeper, quiet, tough-minded, big-hearted, observant. Salima shares personal qualities of my daughter – lively, passionate, fiercely independent scrupulously honest. I felt these would be good qualities to offset or contrast the swindle being foisted on the foolish Egyptian Caliph.
There is a wide variance among young-adult heroines. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and Bella Swan of Twilight, for example, are very different figures when it comes to class. Bella is a commoner. Her father is a cop, she drives a beat-up truck. She desperately wants to join the elite class — the Cullens, who are aristocratic, time-defiant, and inexplicably well-off. Katniss, on the other hand, is only there to overturn the existing order, or die trying. She is a working-class figure devoted to the downtrodden factory and farm districts, pitted against the purple-haired elites.
My heroine, Salima, is more like Katniss. Her family runs a barge service on the Nile, her people are the workers. She joins the national effort to build the great Canal, but quits when she realizes that the Canal is built on the slavery of the fedayeen. She comes to place the good of the workers above her personal interests.