Synopsis: An old ghoul-hunter trains his apprentice while trying to protect the kingdom from evil forces.
Brief Book Review: The cool thing about this book is its setting. Most fantasy is set in an analog of Medieval Christian Europe, and this one is set in an analog of the Islamic Golden Age, primarily in Baghdad. The culture shock is initially very interesting, and draws you in. The book also moves quickly near the beginning, moving from action to action without lingering on minutia. Unfortunately it slows down after a few chapters, which exposes the books flaws – primarily shallowness. No character has any depth, they all chose a dominant personality trait and alignment at character creation, and they stick to it rigidly. The D&D comparison is actually very apt, because it reads very much like a badly run D&D campaign that someone decided to write down. Everything that happens is right there on the surface, there are no hidden depths. The characters don’t grow, they simply gain XP and loot. The final boss is Evil just because it’s evil to be Evil. He does not speak a single word throughout the book, he just throws monsters at the PCs and then dies at the end. It is notable that the author manages to subvert the readers expectations several times. He does so by clumsily playing to old tropes that we see coming from a mile away (“Ah, the Emperor is secretly the Evil Overlord!” or “The Falcon Prince is going to go Dark Messiah”) and then surprising us not by adding a twist or going deeper, but by becoming even shallower! Maybe I’m uncultured, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a subversion of expectations by retreating to surface appearances. It’s kinda meta, but not in a gratifying way. So – too simplistic, which makes it boring. Not Recommended.
Book Club Review: As you may have noticed, the last three books reviewed have all been 2012 Hugo Nominees. The next two reviews will be as well, this is a tradition our bookclub has been exercising for a few years. We spent a fair bit of our discussion trying to figure out how this book had managed to get nominated for a Hugo. While it’s technically proficient – it reads well and is clear – there’s nothing of substance here. Not much to discuss aside from the falling short of expectations. Not Recommended.