I have read and enjoyed several of Saldin Ahmed’s short work in the past so I was not surprised to find this book enthralling and exciting in equal measures — though at only 290 pages I’m not sure that it qualifies as a long work.
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat and what he really wants is to retire, get married and spend his life drinking cardamom tea. His assistant, the dervish Raseed bas Raseed is a holy warrior whose piety matches his skills with his blade. They encounter Zamia Badawi, Pretector of a tribe of desert dwellers who have all been murdered by ghuls leaving her and her ability to take the shape of a lion as the only remnant to seek revenge.
They quickly get involved in a mystery to find the most powerful sorcerer Adoulla has ever seen while the despotic Khalif tightens his grip on the beloved city. The Falcon Prince, a rebel fomenting a revolution to overthrow the gods blessed Khalif and free the commoners of the city, is causing trouble and may be involved and Adoulla’s own acquaintances aren’t safe as ghuls begin attacking people inside the city.
Mystery, intrigue, revolution, alchemy, sorcery, magic, religious crises, emotional relationships and lumbering monsters amidst swords and fire and a girl who can turn into a lion sound like too much to be contained in a work this short but Saladin Ahmed rolls it all up neatly in a way that feel satisfying and like it must have contained much more than if possibly could have.
The characters in this book are all memorable and the writing is fast and fun.
This is ultimately a sword and sorcery tale set in an Arabian inspired setting. Even the magic used relies on combinations of the thousand names of god and the monsters they face are ghuls and djenn as well as jackal monsters and lions. It’s not intended to be a deep examination of moral and ethical questions but it works some of those in anyway. The political situation in Dhamsawaat is such that the main characters each have different and sometimes conflicting views. Raseed and Zamia both have their religious beliefs thrown into question while struggling to remain faithful.
The result is a book that is far better than it needs to be and a lot a fun at the same time.