My rating: 3 of 5 stars
So, three stars or four stars? It started a bit weakly, but improved. I was leaning towards four stars until I realized that I have little interest in reading the sequel. Just a gut feeling, but enough to knock it down to three.
Let's start with the negative. Sometimes the book seems too...straightforward. One way this is true is where the author tells you something where he could have showed you. An example from early in the book:
"You should not contemn poetry, my friend. There's wisdom in these lines. About life, death, one's own fate."
"No doubt!" Yehyeh aped the act of reading a non-existent book in the air before him, running a finger over the imaginary words and speaking in a grumble that was an imitation of Adoulla's own. "O, how hard it is to be so fat! O, how hard it is to have such a large nose! O Beneficent God, why do the children run a-screaming when I come a-walking?"
Before Adoulla could come up with a rejoinder on the fear Yehyeh's own crossed eyes inspired in children, the teahouse owner limped off, chuckling obscenities to himself.
I thought the paragraph where Yehyeh pretends to read poetry is a nice, subtle characterization -- which is ruined in the next line, which explicitly mentions his ugliness.
Also, at times in the book, the protagonists run into a problem, and then somebody says, "I know somebody who can help," and the next chapter or so involves going to that person for help. It's particularly jarring when the assistance comes from someone who hasn't been mentioned before in the book. Sort of like, "Hey, where does the plot need to go next?"
The positives: it's a richly-imagined "second world" that leans more heavily on Muslim and Arabic traditions than you usually see in a sword-and-sorcery novel. (I learned the term "Second World" recently -- to refer to fantasy not set on Earth, and I feel erudite using it.)
The adventures are entertaining, and by the end of the book, the five protagonists have been more subtly characterized than I initially expected.
All in all, a good book, but not one I fell in love with.
Hugo UpdateThis is the third of the five nominees for Best Novel Hugo that I have read. I liked it more than Redshirts, but not as much as 2312, so I have my ballot partially ranked. I seem unlikely to finish the earlier books in series with the other two nominees (Blackout and Captain Vorpatril's Alliance) before the deadline, so what should I do -- not give consideration to all of the books, or violate my rule of not reading books in series out of order?
For now, I'm sort of ducking the question. When I realized how substantial the nominees for Best Novella are -- one is 192 pages in print, I decided to look there. One advantage to that is that one nominee is part of the Newsflesh series (as is Blackout). It's not entirely fair to judge a book by its prequel, but I am pretty sure I'm not going to like this zombie series, and I at least will probably be OK not giving Blackout a chance if I don't fall in love with the prequel novella.
I will probably have to cave on Captain Vorpatril's Alliance since there are so darn many books in the series that I would have to read to catch up, but the quality of the two I have read is high enough that I should give it a chance for my vote.