Review: The Princess of Dhagabad

The Princess of Dhagabad, by Anna Kashina
(Dragonwell, June 2012. Ebook)

Reminiscent of ‘ Tales From The Arabian Nights’, ‘ The Princess Of Dhagabad’ tells the story of the friendship between a princess and a djin. On her twelfth birthday, the princess, whose name we do not learn until the very end of the book because of the tradition of her people, is finally allowed to un-stopper the brass bottle bequeathed to her by her grandmother and discovers she has inherited a very unusual slave. His name is Hasan and he is one of the mysterious djin, a being both feared and prized. He can be anything or do anything, but only at the command of his mistress.

Hasan seems a reserved and aloof being, as one might imagine an all-powerful djin to be, but as his story unfolds, it becomes apparent Hasan was very human before he became trapped in a brass bottle. The princess craves knowledge outside of the limited sphere of the palace and the lessons she is required to take in preparation for succeeding her father as ruler of the kingdom. Hasan is happy to expand her horizons and, through his stories and their adventures together, we learn how he came to be a confined in a brass bottle and what it means to be a djin. Hasan is all powerful, but his knowledge has come at a terrible price.

One by one, the princess and the djin overcome obstacles to their friendship, which deepens throughout the years. Hasan wins the trust of the princess’ mother early by saving the young girl’s life. Proving himself valuable to the sultan, the princess’ father, is more complicated. The sultan feels slighted by fate because none of his sons have survived birth or infancy. He has only daughters, the princess being the oldest and the only child of his wife. Sensibly, the sultan listens to Hasan’s advice and the djin’s place in the palace becomes more assured.

Though the friendship between the princess and the djin maintains an innocent aspect, it becomes clear their bond is more than simple and when the princess attains her majority and a husband is chosen for her, that bond is tested. The princess will have to make a choice between respecting her father’s wishes, what is best for her kingdom and her heart.

Anna Kashina has created a full and vibrant world for her story. Her characters are richly drawn. I was excited to read a story set in a different world and enjoyed absorbing new lore as set out by the author. The friendship between the princess and the djin is especially touching and grows at a wonderfully slow and real pace. This is a love story, but it does not read like a romance novel. Rather, it is an adventure story filled with realistic relationships, from friendship to love. I look forward to reading the next novel in the trilogy, to be published in September 2012.

(Review written for and originally published at SFCrowsnest.com)

Review: Firebird

Firebird, by Jack McDevitt
(Ace, November 2011. Hardcover, 384 pages)

‘Firebird’ by Jack McDevitt starts in much the same way most ‘Alex Benedict’ novels do. Alex and his assistant, Chase Kolpath, come into possession of some artefacts and prepare to sell them. Alex Benedict is no ordinary antiquities dealer, however. He has an insatiable curiosity and he’s a salesman. While investigating the estate of the renowned physicist Chris Robin, Alex stirs up the mystery surrounding the man’s disappearance. This has two predictable effects. One, the price of the modest collection of books and artefacts climbs, which is good for business. Two, Alex gets involved, which is not so good for business. Without Alex Benedict’s propensity for getting involved, however, we’d have nothing to read.

Accompanied by Chase, who again issues warnings regarding his involvement and the danger to himself and his reputation, Alex chases clues in an attempt to unravel the mystery for himself. He and Chase visit Villanueva, a planet occupied only by abandoned and arguably sentient AIs, and rescue one. This act kicks off a chain of events that both demonise and humanise Alex Benedict in the eyes of the public and perhaps the reader. The true sentience of AIs is brought into question and explored from many angles, from cult-like groups bent on proving machine intelligences are real beings and should have all the rights and privileges of humans to the other end of the spectrum, the non-believers. In the midst of this, treasure hunters flock to Villanueva to attempt their own rescues and many of them die at the hands of psychotic AIs.

Separately, the mystery of Chris Robin’s disappearance deepens. The notoriety gained by previous events hinders Alex’s effectiveness, however. Basically, many who previously respected Alex now blame him for the deaths of idiots. They refuse to help him when help is needed and an important mission all but fails. A humanist to the core, Alex is deeply affected by all of this. But he perseveres, because finding Chris Robin might help him find Gabe, his long lost uncle.

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Review: Armored

Armored, Edited by John Joseph Adams
(Baen, March 2012. Paperback, 608 pages)

Sadly, for those who write introductions and forewords for anthologies, I often only glance at them in passing, then move on to the good stuff – the stories. In this instance, the first sentence of the foreword by Orson Scott Card leapt out and grabbed me, just as the first line of a good story should. I read the entire thing and enjoyed it. Card had many thought-provoking things to say about why someone wears armour and who that person is, essentially, a theme explored by many of the stories in the anthology.

I went on to read the introduction by John Joseph Adams, the editor of the anthology and also enjoyed his thoughts on the subject matter. John Adams is an accomplished anthology editor and he has pulled together a compelling selection of stories in ‘Armored’. Apparently, it’s the first anthology of its type about mechs, power armour and bio-suits. My only question was, why did they wait so long?

As always, when you read an anthology, some names will stand out and others will be unfamiliar. As always, I leapt in without prejudice and read every single story. Based on the author list alone, I had an idea which stories I would find entertaining. I did stumble across a few surprises, however, and I made a couple of new discoveries which means my pile of books to be read has grown by another approximate dozen.

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Review: Free Food for Millionnaires

Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee
(Warner, July 2007. Hardcover, 576 pages)

I found this book hard to put aside, despite several quibbles with the way it was plotted and written. Free Food for Millionaires is the story of Casey Han, an American born Korean woman who finds herself caught between worlds – those of her parents and her peers. The disparity between cultures is not the only thing Casey struggles with. As the child of apparently poor immigrants, she also feels apart from the entitled men and women who make up the majority of her friends.

From her first love to what might be her true love, we follow Casey on a journey of discovery that includes startling insights into the lives of her friends and family. She’s not the only lost soul in the book. Far from it. In fact, I think the only people in the book who truly know who they are Joseph and Joseph, Casey’s father and the old bookseller she befriends later on. Probably no coincidence they share the same first name.

The ending is ambiguous, but I think I expected that. As to my quibbles, the plot did wander now and again. I understood why some threads were included but didn’t necessarily feel all were important. Some simply drove home the same point, over and again. The most distracting aspect of the novel, however, was the constantly revolving point of view. More than once I had to reread a paragraph or a page to clarify just whose thoughts I was hearing. It could be annoying in particularly emotional scenes as well, to skip from one head to the other, almost mid thought.

Still, it’s a good book; a thought provoking look at New York, being twenty-something, being in love and being different.

(Read in March 2012. Review originally posted on Goodreads)

Review: Critical Care

Critical Care, by Richard Dooling
(Picador, June 1996. Paperback, 256 pages)

The story is fairly simple on the surface, but more complex beneath. A young doctor is faced with a choice–he’s fooled into having to make it, and his naivete regarding the issue is quite stunning. But, it’s also endearing, and a big part of why this book is so engaging.

The dark humour had me laughing, despite mild horror, then, invariably, I’d turn the page and frown against the urge to weep. The ending was perfect.

This is a great first novel. The language is precise and easy to read, even though the book is peppered with medical terms. I enjoyed the way the author used words and constructed visual imagery. The writing, for me, elevated this book from ordinary to something I took the time to review.