fantasy


The first book in the Cleopatra’s Daughter historical fantasy series. It can be read as a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2011
Format: ebook
Page count: 351 at GoodReads
Publisher: Berkeley Books

This story follows the early years of Cleopatra Selene in Roman captivity. She’s the daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt. It’s written from Selene’s first-person POV.

The story starts just before Cleopatra’s death. Selene, her twin brother Alexander Helios, and their younger brother Ptolemy Philadelphos are coming to see their mother. The twins are ten and Philadelphos is eight years old. Selene is carrying a woven basket and she can feel something moving inside. They meet their mother who is preparing to die. She gives them last advice and also gives them each a memento and a power. Then she sends them back to the palace and reaches for the viper.

When the Romans invade Alexandria, Queen Cleopatra is dead. The three children are confined to the palace. Eventually, they’re brought to Rome for Emperor Octavian’s triumph. They’re paraded in chains in front of the city populace which is a terrifying and humiliating. Selene must beg for their lives which her proud twin refuses to do so. The Emperor gives them to his sister to raise.

His sister Octavia is Mark Antony’s former wife. Her household has Anthony’s other children so Selene meets for the first time her half-siblings. They’re resent her and her brothers.

Selene and her brothers are raised in the strict Roman way and they can’t worship their goddess, Isis. Perhaps even worse, they’re pawns in the Emperor’s political games. Selene must grow up quickly and learn to play politics herself, to survive.

This is a coming-of-age story but quite a unique one. The Romans try to raise Selene and her brothers as Romans because they view Egyptian ways as decadent and immoral. Octavian is especially scornful of women and lectures that women must be modest and work hard. He hates Selene’s mother. He also hates Isis’ worshipers and to them Selene and Helios are prophesied saviors.

I was fascinated by this portrayal of Isis worship. Her worshipers have a personal connection to her, which is very unusual for the time. Her worshipers also come form all walks of life, from slaves to high-born. Roman didn’t approve of this kind of religion and oppressed the worshipers. Isis worship was portrayed as a clear forerunner to Christianity.

Since the book is from Selene’s POV, the Romans and the Roman culture is seen as evil. Octavian is a moody, sickly, power hungry manipulator and his wife Livia is very strict and cold and indulges her husband’s every whim. Octavia is also very strict but does have a soften side which isn’t seen often. Cleopatra’s and Antony’s faults and not really mentioned.

Selene was raised as a Princess; she knows many languages and can dance and play kithara. The Romans view dancing as sinful and they put the children to work doing chores. During the book, Selene also wrestles with her faith: how can Isis be real and allow her parents to die and Egypt to suffer? She also wrestles with how she feels about her mother.

The book has several magical elements, most of them focusing on Selene and Isis. A couple of times hieroglyphics suddenly appear on her arms, carved in her own flesh, her blood dripping from the wounds. There’s also some prophesies and one character can see different Rivers in Time.

I enjoyed this book but more for the glimpse of Ancient Rome and the culture clash than the characters.

The first volume in a manga series.

Creator: Fuse
Artist: Taiki Kawakami

This is a manga apparently based on an internet novel, at least at the back of the Finnish edition, Fuse writes about how he wondered if it was even possible to make a comic from his book.

Mikami is a 37-year old Japanese man who is unsatisfied with his life because he doesn’t have a girlfriend and while he has a passable job it’s not very good. However, he seemed to be a kindhearted man because when his friends’ girlfriend is attacked suddenly, Mikami intervenes. Unfortunately, he’s stabbed and dies. But when he’s dying, he hears a strange voice talking to him: because he’s a virgin he can reincarnate as a wizard.

When his consciousness returns, at first he can’t see or hear anything but can “talk” in his head with a strange voice who tells him things about the world and himself. It turns out that he’s reincarnated as a blob of slime in a fantasy world. However, he has two powers to begin with and every time he digests something or someone, he gets their abilities. He also changes his name to Rimuru. The first person he encounters in this world is a dragon.

The comic has lots of humor but it’s not slapstick. In this first volume, we get a brief scene from totally different characters talking about the wider world. But the rest is from Rimuru’s POV. He’s mostly a fun POV character and is mostly ready to help others. However, he emotionally he felt like a teenager to me, not a middle-aged man.

The artwork is mostly nice but in the last two chapters women are drawn in sexualized ways.

The world feels like it’s put together from various famous fantasy works with dragons, orcs, dwarfs, elves, and humans. The characters also don’t have character development, as such, but get additional abilities, upgrades, like in computer games. This surprised me at first but I got used to it quickly. However, Rimuru gets very powerful very quickly, so the story focuses more on humor and exploring the world rather than danger. Also, people kept saying the dragon which has been imprisoned for 300 years is somehow protecting the valley.

A fun and light read but the volume ends in a cliffhanger.

A SF and F short story collection with the theme of food and eating.

Publication year: 2020
Format: ebook
Page count on GoodReads: 226
Publisher: Zombies Need Brains

The collection has a surprising number of humorous and downright whimsical stories which was great. But it does have more serious stories, too, and one is borderline horror. Some mix fantasy and science fiction. All stories have food in them and some of them focus on a particular dish.

“Blue” by Paige L. Christie: Blue Eat is a diner but not just any diner. The people there want to help everyone who comes in. A man whose past weights very heavy on his conscious can’t tell his story and May must work very hard to get it out of him.

“My Brother’s Leaves” by Diana A. Hart: Mei’s brother has spent so much money on wine and women that he’s in a terrible debt. When he dies, he leaves Mei is a very difficult position. Mei has no choice but to go through her brother’s memories in the hopes of glimpsing something that will help her. But it’s very dangerous to consume too much of the tea that shows her his memories.

“Snow and Apples” by A.L. Tompkins: Ivan’s beloved Marushka has died and the only thing he can do for her is to fetch some ghost apples. But they’re well guarded. Fortunately, Ivan has friends who might be able to help him.

“Sense and Sensitivity” by Esther Friesner: This is a slapstick comedy in written form. Midge is an agent of Department of Extraterrestrial Respect and Protocol which was formed shortly after the Malkyoh came to Earth. The aliens are ravenous gluttons who demand constant feasts but unfortunately they’re also allergic to various Earth foods. Midge is trying to both protect humans and be properly subservient to the aliens.

“The Silence that Consumes Us” by Derrick Boden: A military pilot crashes her space fighter with one of her enemies’ fighters. They end up on a moon which has barely breathable air. But no food.

“The All Go Hungry Hash House” by Andy Duncan: Three musicians go to a famous Hash House… and things go downhill from there. Another comedy story.

“Pickled Roots and Peeled Shoots and a Bowl of Farflower Tea” by Chaz Brenchley: A woman has founded a monastery in a remote location. A group of soldiers comes to the monastery with a mission their leader is determined to see through, no matter what.

“Course of Blood” by Howard Andrew Jones: This fantasy story begins with a feast. Three soldiers are looking for an enemy general, Hanuvar, who is apparently hiding in the town. Hanuvar has such a fearsome reputation that the soldiers say that they’re looking for someone who claims to be the general.

“A Real Llwelyn Scone” by Mike Jack Stoumbos: The small village of Llwelyn is famous for its scones and a couple of heroes a generation ago. Then a new lord comes to the village and demands to sample the famous scones. The trouble is that they require dragon’s tears to make and nobody in the town now is a hero. So they draw lots to see who will face the dragon.

“Tender” by R.S. Belcher: Monster living among modern humanity need to eat, too. They can order their very specific meals through an app called Tender. The main character is the man who delivers the orders.

“That Final Touch of Salt” by Mia Moss: The narrator is the spirit of a child. A witch, Mirror, cursed the spirit and trapped her to a phial and now forces her to work for Mirror and her family. The poor little spirit tries to escape but in vain.

“Alien Capers” by Gini Koch: This story is set in Koch’s humorous SF world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really introduce the characters. The main character is a journalist and for a short time he acts as a bodyguard to a 19-year old prince. They are on a planet where all the aliens look like apes but are intelligent. The narrator and the prince are caught holding the crown jewels of a lot of worlds. It all starts in a banquet.

“Magick on the Half Shell” by D.B. Jackson: A fantasy history story set in Boston in 1761. Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker. He can use magic so he often catches thieves who use magic themselves. Sephira Pryce is one of the leaders of Boston’s underworld and a very dangerous women. When she has an offer for Ethan, he’s suspicious.

“Apocalypse Chow” by Jason Palmatier: The apocalypse happened and most humans are dead. But two people are still left and they hate each other’s guts. For now, they must stick together for shelter and food.

“Six Sandwiches to Place Inside a Pentagram to Summon Me to Your Presence” by Gabriela Santiago: This story is six letterd from Elle to her younger brother Kam. They instruct him on how to make various sandwiches and also reminisce on the past, her own and their shared past.

This was a fun collection which several funny stories mixed with more serious ones.

A stand-alone epic fantasy book.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 21 hours 44 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Davies

This fantasy book has a lush, rich history and deep characters. The writing style is also lush and beautiful, much like in Carey’s Kushiel books. However, it doesn’t have any sex scenes, unlike the Kushiel books.

This is a world without stars: only one sun and three moons are on the sky. However, once the world had stars who were also gods. But the gods grew rebellious against the four original gods and were cast out. Now they live among humans and on occasion walk among humans. The world has also several cultures, some of them sea-fearing, other living in desert.

As long as he can remember, Khai has known his duty and his destiny. He was born at the same moment as the youngest member of the house of the Endless, Princess Zariya, and so he’ll train to become her bodyguard, her Shadow. He is reared among the Brotherhood of Pahrkun (the god of the Scouring Wind) who are warrior monks. When he, and the Princess, will turn sixteen he will journey to Zarkhum’s capital and start his duty. He will also then meet the Princess for the first time.

Khai trains hard. At the age of seven, when the book starts, he’s already an accomplished warrior. The book has several parts but it’s clearly divided to three: one follows Khai until he’s sixteen and meets the Princess. In the capital, he will live with her in the women’s quarters among scheming and gossiping which are alien to him. The final third of the book is a more traditional epic fantasy.

Khai never wavers in his duty; never questions it. However, there is a twist which I didn’t know about and won’t spoil here. It’s a good one, though. Zariya is quite a different character than I expected but I really enjoyed reading about her, too.

The biggest drawback, I think, is that all three parts of the book have a different cast of supporting characters. I also felt that each of the casts was larger than the one before it. It was a bit harder to follow who is each character as the story when along. The first part has the all male Brotherhood. I was surprised how different they were from each other. While some of the monks come to the monastery of their own will, or presumably like Khai sent there at an early age, they also have another tradition: any man convicted of a crime so hideous he would be executed, can instead choose to take the Trial of Pahrkun. He fights three of the Brotherhood’s members in the Hall of Proving. If he survives them, his sins are forgotten and he joins the Brotherhood. Three of the monks are quite memorable.

The second part is set in the city with both male and female members of the royal court. Because Zariya and Khai live in the women’s quarters, many of the cast here are women. In the third part they travel away from the city and gather a ragtag gang of accidental heroes around them. However, each of the casts stand surprising well, a testament to Carey’s skills with characters.

Yet, I didn’t feel as connected with the third or second group as I did with the first group of characters. It’s been too many years since I read Kushiel to really compare Carey’s writing style here but it felt similar with the lushness and some repetitions. The book does have quite a lot of tropes: Khai is literally the Chosen One, better at what he does than adults, he has a clear destiny, and we get a Prophecy, too, which they follow in the last third of the book. Still, Carey used them well and they were fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The characters were great and I adored Khai and Zariya and their developing relationship. The world was also vivid.

The first book in the Templar Chronicle urban fantasy series.

Publication year: 2005
Format: ebook
Page count on GoodReads: 306
Publisher: Harbringer Books

Cade Williams in the Knight Commander of his own elite team of Knight Templar. The Echo team has a reputation for getting things done, but Cade himself is called the Heretic and many of the deeply religious knights fear him and think he’s damned.

One of those knights is Knight Lieutenant Sean Duncan. He’s the head of the protetive detail for one of the leaders of the order. One of the knights’ stronghold is attacked bytsupernatural forces and every knight is killed and the graveyard is desecrated. Duncan’s superior calls in the Echo Team. The team is missing one member and Cade chooses Duncan to replace the dead man. Reluctantly, Duncan agrees but he’s very suspicions of Cade from the start.

Cade has suspicions on just what has attacked the stronghold and he starts an investigation which unearths a plot against the whole order.

There are a lot of legends around the Poor Knight of Christ of the Temple of Solomon or Knight Templar or Templars. In this story, they are the good guys, protecting humanity from supernatural dangers. The bad guys are sorcerers who are bringing demons and undead spirits to the world.

It has two major point-of-view characters, Cade and Duncan. While they have quite a few similarities, they have differences, too. Both were inspired to join the order because their wives where murderd. They both have magic powers which they’re keeping a secret from everyone. Cade has the Sight with which he can see to a world beyond ours and also past events of object he touches. He can also travel to the Beyond through mirrors. Duncan can heal with his touch.

However, Duncan is devoutly religious while Cade lost his faith when his wife was murdered before his eyes. Duncan is also very faithful to his superior while Cade pretty much does as he pleases. Cade is hunting for the Adversary who ordered his wife killed.

This was an exciting read with lots of fight scenes and a fast-paced plot. It didn’t end in a cliffhanger but it left major plot poins open at the end.

The second book in the humorous fantasy the Clocktaur War duology.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 10 hours 14 minutes
Narrators: Khristine Hvam

This is the second half of the book Clockwork Boys where a forger, a fallen paladin, an assassin, and a scholar are sent on pain of death to find out how to stop the mechanical enemies of their country.

In the beginning of this second book, the our heroes have just reached Anuket City. They must start researching just how to stop the mechanical soldiers. But first, they need warm baths and hot food. Then Slate, the forger, gets to visit her old contacts from whom she fled the city years ago. Learned Edmund also hunting information his own way. However, everyone in the group are keeping secrets from each other.

I loved the new character Ashes Magnus! I enjoyed the Anuket City. I enjoyed the gnoles which are badge-like creatures who do all the scud work in the city where people constantly look down on them and are convinced they spread a disease. The humor worked for me. The story has many, many wonderfully comedic moments.

However, the last hour of the book was the resolution of the romance, after a climatic plot resolution. The book also left some questions wide open. There’s definitely room for an sequel here, perhaps with different characters, although I’d love to see our couple working together.

I enjoyed listening to this and the narrator did an excellent job. But it still think that Learned Edwina would’ve been far funnier than Edmund, even if he did have his moments.

Quotes:
“We’re not all tragic heroes. Someone of us are just tragic.”

“It could,” acknowledged Slate, “but show me a clandestine operation without leaks, and I’ll show you one where everybody involved is dead.”
“We’re a clandestine operation,” said Caliban.

“Shame flitted briefly over Brenner’s face, but found itself in unfamiliar surroundings and didn’t settle.””

“People do the stupidest shit and you want to scream that it’s against their own interests and you never know if they’re playing some deep game you don’t know about or if they’re really just that stupid.”

“Stealing from a library?” said Learned Edmund in horror.

The second book in the fantasy series Craft Sequence. It’s a stand-alone.

Publication year: 2013
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 347
Publisher: Tor

This is a very different book from the first one. It’s set in a different city with different characters.

Caleb Altemoc is a risk analyst to the Red King Consolidated. His father Temoc is a famous terrorist and Caleb doesn’t want anything to do with him. The Red King Consolidated is responsible for distributing clean water to the city of Dresediel Lex which is in the middle of a desert. It has 16 million people.

When Tzimoth demons are infesting a water reservoir Caleb is sent to check it out in the middle of the night. It’s very unlikely that the demons have come there naturally. One woman flees the scene. She seems to be a cliff runner, just there for the thrill of it. Caleb chases her but can’t catch her. He falls instantly in love/lust; he doesn’t tell his employers about her and instead tries to find her himself.

However, he suspects that his father Temoc is behind the attack. When Caleb returns home, Temoc is waiting for him.

Twenty years ago, the city was supported by human sacrifices to the gods who hunger blood. But then the Craftmen and Craftwomen rose in revolt in God Wars. One of them was a man whose (male) lover was killed as a sacrifice. Now, that man is the King in Red. Craft (magic) has eaten away his flesh and he is essentially a walking skeleton. He has made many, many contracts to support his company and in practice he rules the city. Not only does his company rule water but his Wardens are the police (who ride on flying lizards).

Caleb’s father is the last priest of the old gods. Temoc and the King in Red battled fiercely during the war. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Red King has taken an interest in Caleb. Temoc is hunted and has learned how to keep hiding. He still wants the old ways to return and to him the Craftsmen and -women who rose and killed gods are blasphemers. Still, he loves his son and is interested in what’s going on in his life.

Caleb’s main hobby is gambling. He’s good at it, too. He’s very loyal to the King in Red and loathes his father and the blood-soaked system he represents. I found the gambling fascinating because one of the few deities who are left is the goddess of gambling. When she’s present, the players bet a part of their soul, usually very small part. The winner gets the soulstuff of the others.

The city’s whole economy is based on soulstuff. The people are paid in soulstuff and they pay everything with the pieces of their souls. Indeed, some people are enslaved after death. The company has zombies working for it and I think it was said at some time that the workers had sold his body before they died so this isn’t a case of necromancers robbing the bodies. But otherwise the city feels quite modern: modern professions and corporations with office workers. They even go to ullamal games and support various teams.

While this was an entertaining enough read, I didn’t like it as much as the first book. The magical parts of the city were fascinating and I quite liked the side characters. Teo is Caleb’s best friend. She’s from a wealthy family but loathes her family and wants to get by on her own. She works for the RKC, as well. She’s in her forties. Her girlfriend is an artist. I also found the relationship between the King in Red and Temoc very interesting. The theme of revolution interesting and it’s not used very often in fantasy.

The budding romance between Caleb and the mysterious cliff runner Mal is one of the main features in the story. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for it.

I thought RKC is supposed to be criticism against modern corporations and reading about how they “employ” dead, it does sound rather chilling. And of course some other things we find later on are really troubling. But the King in Red is an immortal so he has far longer view than any corporation where the people in charge think in only four month segments, if that.

An entertaining read but to me not as appealing as the first book.

A stand-alone fantasy book but technically first in the Ile-Rien series.

Publication year: 1993, revised 2006
Format: print
Page count: 314
Publisher: Tor

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Wells’ Murderbot novellas but this was her first book and so quite different in style. I bought it years ago.

This is a tale of betrayal, treason, and death. It’s set in a city reminiscent of 1600s France, rather than the usual Middle-Ages. But it has lots of magic. It also has very complex court with lots of people. It’s a lot of take in. The book has some echoes of the Three Musketeers but has a grimmer atmosphere. It also doesn’t have much humor.

Captain Thomas Boniface is the leader of the Queen’s Guard. Technically, his guard protects the current young Queen Falaise but in reality they’re in the service of the Dowager Queen Ravenna. Thomas is also Ravenna’s long-time ally and lover. Ravenna’s son Roland is the King and he’s in his early twenties. Roland’s dad was a terrible man and a weak King who terrorized his two children. As the result Roland hates his mom and trusts only one man: his cousin Denzil who is a cruel and ruthless manipulator.

The story starts with Thomas leading a group of his men to rescue Dr. Dubell, an elderly sorcerer. He and his group manage to break in and stumble through the magical traps and get Dubell away.

At the same time, a theater troupe gets a new member: Kade who is King Roland’s half-fae elder sister who has always resented her father’s treatment of her. Now, she’s sneaking to the palace. But during the troupe’s act, a golem attacks the court and Kade helps Thomas defeat the creature.

Clearly, the golem is the work of a powerful enemy. Unfortunately, the kingdom of Ile-Rien has lots of them. However, Thomas’ suspicions turn to Urbain Grandier, a rogue sorcerer. But Grandier is mostly likely working with someone or several people inside the court and Thomas has no idea whom he can trust.

Thomas is a solid main character. He clearly loves and trust Ravenna and vice versa. They’re old friends and despite the difference in their ranks, both can be truthful with each other. Neither trusts anyone else. He has served her for twenty years, so he’s older than is usual for most fantasy books, which was great. He clearly knows the court and it’s intrigues and is used to navigating them.

The other major POV character is Kade. When she was a child, Ravenna sent her away from court to a nunnery but she escaped quickly. Kade’s mother is fae and Kade has some fae powers from her. Kade has also studied a bit of human sorcery so she can use both. She’s also very angry woman. Angry at her father for his treatment of her and angry at Ravenna for not helping her. She makes a halfhearted effort to mend her relationship with Roland who clearly loaths her for leaving him alone with their father. She’s a wild card element; the other characters don’t know what to think of her.

Kade is also our window to Queen Falaise who is a timid woman, trying to please the people around her rather than having any power of her own.

Ravenna is really the star of the book: she’s the real leader of the country and has to work around all the male egos around her. In previous years, when Ile-Rien had to go to war, she was the one who led the war and her King stayed at home. We also got a couple of hints that she taught the servants and gentlewomen around her to be smart, ruthless, and survivors. Her biggest flaw seems to be that she can’t trust. Because if she had trusted the new Queen Falaise and taught her, they would’ve been unstoppable.

The fae come to the book pretty late but I really liked them.

However, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and the romance didn’t work for me. This isn’t a quick read: there are so many characters and relationships that you really need to concentrate to read it.

The second book in the Daevabad fantasy trilogy which is inspired by Middle-Eastern folklore.

Publication year: 2019
Format: Audio
Running time: 23 hours 14 minutes
Narrators: Soneela Nankani

The very opening of this book is set right after the ending of the first book, City of Brass. However, the rest of the book is set five years after the end. This is an unusual choice and when I first tried to listen the book, it distracted me too much to really enjoy it. However, once I got over my expectations, I enjoyed it a lot. Also, structurally, this is a very different book from the first one. City of Brass had a lot of exploration because Nahri was first going to Daevabad and then getting to know it. Now, the exploration part is missing. The vast majority of the book is political scheming to set up the explosive final act. This time, the book has three POV characters.

In addition to the various scheming, the book also focuses on characters. The familial relationships between the city’s ruling family are complex. Muhtadhir is the lecherous drunkard and the heir, but he can also be a charming negotiator and is fiercely loyal to his asshole father. His younger brother Ali has been banished but he returns to the city. Ali has rigorous moral standards, based on the daeva version of the Muslim faith, and he doesn’t bend them. Their sister Zaynab is a more sane person. Ali’s and Zaynab’s mother Hatset is the current queen and while she’s confined to the harem, she’s a formidable political figure. Of course, king Ghassan rules them all with an iron fist. He talks a lot that he wants to unite the city but many of the things he does in fact tear it further apart.

The world is lush and richly imagined. In this book, we see ever more tribes and their customs. Various mythical beings are also introduced. Both Nahri and Ali have new magical powers, so there’s even more magic than in the first book.

Daevabad is a city just looking for an excuse to blow up: various daeva tribes scheme against each other and everyone is oppressing the mix blood children of daeva and humans, the shafit. Things are so bad that even though Koran is against owing another Muslim, the more ruthless full-bloods are selling shafit on the streets as slaves. Nahri comes up with her own scheme: to found a hospital for the shafit and everyone else. This could unite the city but is it already too late?

The book ends in a big cliff-hanger and I’m really looking forward to the next book.

A stand-alone historical fantasy book set in 12th century Egypt.

Publication year: 1989
Format: print
Page count: 260
Publisher: Bantam

This is a book for horse lovers. It’s a fairy tale expanded to a fantasy.

Hasan is the pampered only son of a rich emir and a thoroughly self-centered, gambling, drunken womanizer. He also lives in Egypt in a time when all decent women live in harems. When he finally gambles away his father’s prized mares, his father has had enough and just tells Hasan that he’s going to be sent for a Beduin who will make a man out of Hasan. Hasan escapes. But instead of doing anything useful, he spends the night drinking, womanizing, and spending the last of his money. After he’s robbed and beaten, he staggers to the house of an old man who nurses him back to health. Recovering, Hasan meets the beautiful young woman who has been nursing him and rapes her. She’s the old man’s daughter. The old man turns out to be a magus and he transforms Hasan to a horse, a red stallion. The magus tells Hasan that he will be a slave to a woman and will die in the horse form.

Soon, a girl does buy Hasan the stallion. She’s Zamaniyah who is around 14 but already has a great eye for horses. She’s also the only daughter of Hasan’s father’s mortal enemy. She names Hasan Khamsin and starts to train him together with her father’s horsemaster, a Greek slave.

The POV characters are Hasan/Khamsin, Zamaniyah, and her eunuch slave Jaffar. Because all of Zamaniyah’s brothers have been slain (by Hasan’s father), her father had decided to raise her has a boy and his heir. She’s forbidden to enter harem, where all of her father’s women, including concubines, live and she’s forbidden to wear women’s clothing or makeup or anything that rich women of that time had. Instead, she’s taught to ride, fight, hunt, and care for horses.

The first half of the book is mostly about Zamaniyah training the horse Khamsin. The second half is set during the sultan Salah ad-Din Yusuf’s war campaign and is quite different from the first.

Zamaniyah is a great character. She always obeys her father, even though sometimes she wishes that she could be an ordinary girl. But on the other hand, she enjoys horse and knows that this is the only way she can train and ride them. But when she’s angry, she forgets to be obedient and quiet, so that nobody will notice how strange she is. She takes a liking to Khamsin and uses a gentle “Greek” way to train him as a warhorse. The women scorn her and the men can’t be friends with her, so her only friend is Jaffar, her eunuch slave who is devoted to her. She also befriends one of her father’s concubines who is a captured Frankish woman.

Tarr doesn’t shy away from showing us the Islamic world at the time, which includes (rich) women shut away to harems, slavery, eunuchs, and that woman are chattel to men. Most men don’t accept Zamaniyah but they must respect that it was her father’s choice to raise her as a boy. Also, the book dealt with surprising amount of rape, although not in any titillating way. So, despite Zamaniyah’s age, this is definitely not YA.

I thoroughly enjoyed Zamaniyah and Khamsin was mostly entertaining, too. I mostly enjoyed this story and except for the fantasy bits, I think it’s fairly accurate description of the times.

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