My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was a bit nervous about reading this book since it was covered with accolades. In my experience, that usually means I’ll sit there wondering why because I didn’t like it. No worries here. This book was just plain fun. It’s done in the style of the Arabian Nights and would have been right at home as one of Scheherazade’s tales. I loved it.
The story is told from the view point of Asim, captain of the Vizier’s, Jaffar’s, guard. In an attempt to distract Jaffar from the loss of a beloved parrot, Asim and Dabir, the scholar hired to instruct Jaffar’s highly intelligent teenaged daughter, take the Vizier from his isolated splendor out onto the streets of medieval Baghdad. After amusing himself with a fortune teller, Jaffar worries about the prophecy, convincing himself that the old woman had it wrong when she proclaimed Dabir the great warrior, Asim as the man of words and the Vizier as the man who will lose his head for loving above his station. Surely Asim will be the warrior, Jaffar the author and Dabir has to be in love with his student, Sabirah.
Immediately afterward they witness a crime and get drawn into an adventure beyond Asim and Dabir’s reckoning. The man they see murdered is carrying a door pull. Together with the door pull the caliph already has, they can open the door to the Desert of Souls where the mysteries of an ancient city (bearing some resemblance to Sodom and Gomorrah but I do not know enough of the Koran to be sure they’re the same city) of great power are housed. Firouz, wanting revenge on the caliph, means to use the pulls to end Baghdad. Asim and Dabir, along with others from the vizier’s household must stop them.
As they race to stop Firouz and his henchmen, Asim and Dabir face many challenges, dark magic, assassins, poisons, djinns and sea sickness. To make matters worse, Sabirah, with the impetuousness of teenagers, has stowed away and isn’t discovered aboard ship until far too late to return her to her uncle. Even if they do manage to stop Firouz, Asim and especially Dabir, face execution on the behalf of Sabirah’s honor when they return home. Temptation offers itself in the way of escape into Bedouin life where they could be together without fear of reprisals but will they accept it or try to save Baghdad knowing they will likely lose their lives.
I enjoyed every moment of this, though it’s a touch slow to get started. It’s well researched and some of the characters are real historical figures. The one thing I didn’t like is just a personal preference. I don’t like it when we get hints of how it’ll turn out. For years afterward, in all the long years I knew him he never again did…so on and so forth. To me that takes away from the tension because obviously they DO survive and it would have been more exciting to know that one or more of them wasn’t going to make it. Other than that, which is minor, I recommend this one.
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