“Paradise is under the shadow of swords.” – Mohammed
Welcome to Mir'aj, a new world created by Val Gunn that rivals the classic settings of the 1001 Nights and the stories of Sindbad the Sailor, a paradise of kingdoms with Arabian styled palaces, courtyards with jasmine scented gardens, shrines with minarets, verdant vineyards, bubbling fountains, labyrinthine cities made wealthy by sea commerce and trade caravans that brave the blistering sands of the great desert blasted by the heat of twin suns and nights lit by the light of three moons.
It is a world they would kill for.
Hiril Altair, a soldier trained by the Four Banners, a warrior league with the mission to rid the land of demonic creatures and brigands, has been given a special mission: to deliver a set of secret manuscripts, the Books of Promise. In these manuscripts lies the power to destroy the world as the inhabitants of Mir'aj know it, and they must be taken to a safe place away from those who would use their secrets to rule the world. He never makes it, Altaȉr is slain at the door of the embassy that would have given him sanctuary, cut down by the most feared assassin of the land, Ciris Sarn—the Kingslayer.
Sarn, however, has a story of his own, and refuses to hand over the manuscripts to the power-hungry master who has him bound in a djinn-curse. In an act of defiance, he complies with his order to kill to the letter, but leaves the manuscripts where he found them, let his master come for them if he wants. By chance, the Books come into the possession of Marin, Hiril Altair's widow, a lady-warrior of the Four Banners. She makes it her mission to discover the truth about the manuscripts, who wants them and why, but most of all, to hunt down her husband's assassin, her thoughts bent on revenge.
That's not all, the master of Sarn has other schemes in operation and has enmeshed the Sultanate of Qatana in a web of conspiracies and black designs to achieve his ends to acquire ultimate power. Only one man is a threat to him, Pavanan Munif, leader of the Jassaj warrior spies in service to the Sultan of Qatana, and Munif must find some way to stop his enemy before his evil plans come into effect.
The tale weaves between these three characters, Sarn, Marin and Munif. Sarn desperately trying to break free from the curse that binds him to the Sultan and his cronies, Marin hunting for Sarn, and Munif's adventures as he tries to unravel the conspiracies set into motion by his enemy. It is a fast-paced novel, and while the story gets a little confusing with the different threads running through the narration, the amount of characters that are introduced and the few flashbacks, if you stick with it, you will find it a fascinating tale of deception, murder, mayhem, and the thirst for power. It is a refreshing change for anyone who needs a break from fantasy based on northern myths of elves, dragons and unicorns as this is set in an Arabic wonderland with efrits, demonic kayals, evil úathirs and strange alchemical spells.
Of course, as the author states from the beginning: this is not Lord of the Rings. It is not a book for the kiddies with it's graphic murders, a few expletive words, and frank mentions of the seedy side of life and human weakness. This is meant to be a gritty novel, and indeed, it reads like a chronicle of the Sultan's court in ancient Persia, lending it a sense of authenticity as if we were reading about long-lost Middle-eastern kingdoms here on earth as Emirs and Kings struggle of political dominance.
As you would expect of fantasy novels, the book comes with a map of Mir'aj, it is truly well done, and the introduction of magic words in Arabic script makes me wish I could read and understand Arabic!
This is the first of the Mir'aj chronicles, and it is obvious we have not heard the last of Sarn, Munif, Marin, or the Books of Promise—I can't wait.