Author: Saladin Ahmed
Publisher: DAW Books
I am a very strong advocate of fantasy novels that are based outside the usual Euro-centric setting. Furthermore, I have previously read Mr. Ahmed’s short story, “Where Virtue Lies”, which is the prequel to this novel, and reviewed it as one of the nicest things I’ve read that year.
So imagine my excitement when this book landed on my desk.
The book follows Dr. Adoulla, an aging ghul hunter who desperately wants to retire and spend his time drinking tea. Things get ugly in his city of Dharamsawaat, and the man is called with his young, zealous assistant — a dervish named Raseed, to save the day.
Did I mention that I am a also big fan of novels that feature a ‘specialist protagonist’? Sometimes it feels fresh to read about the clever, cunning protagonist at the height of their career, rather than witness their humble start and then their rise to stardom through a prophecy or a ‘chosen one’ theme.
Mr. Ahmed’s writing style is — in one word — a lesson. His prose, words’ choice and descriptions are incredibly vivid. You have to understand that the novel is a bit deeper than what you’d expect from the cover. You’d think it’s a swashbuckling, Arabian-Nights-derivative, right? Well, think again.
The book goes smoothly into many philosophical aspects of life through the eyes of the characters. Things like aging, honor, virtue and zealotry form many of the novel’s themes. Don’t worry about the action, it’s there, just not what you might have thought it was.
The culture presented here is incredibly rich. Forget about the imagery — the Arabian setting has been done countless times. It’s the traditions, the ideologies and the history that are so deep it feels like this Dharamsawaat thing actually exists somewhere.
So far, so good. Now comes the part that didn’t fully work for me, all books have that. All.
It’s good that I have read some of Mr. Ahmed’s work before, otherwise I would have stopped reading at the opening scene, which is terribly dark. No spoilers, but it involves a horribly graphic torture scene.
The ending is good, though I’d have loved to know more and delve deeper into the head of the bad guy. The climax is easy and oddly swift. Not what I had expected, but still not enough to take away from my enjoyment.
The verdict? Mr. Ahmed is incredibly talented, and I can’t wait to see his next heavy book.