Thursday , July 25 2024
My only disappointment with The Arabesk Trilogy? The fact that it ended.

Book Review: Felaheen by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Why do all good things have to come to an end? Whose idea was that anyway, some sort of killjoy who thinks suffering is good for you? Personally I don't see anything wrong with good things going on and on ad infinitum. However, since I appear to be a minority of one when it comes to opinions these days, I'm sure nobody else agrees with me, if they even can be bothered about it.

On the other hand, there is the problem of who exactly keeps the good thing going. How many times have you attended a concert you've not wanted to end, but of course the band can't play forever, so that good time will have to stop? The same thing applies to books or a series of books. There are any number of books I've read that I never wanted to end, but obviously, that's not fair to the writer. He or she might have other things they want to write about, and not keep writing the same story, or about the same characters.

It's bad enough that we ask some writers to create trilogies (I don't know how Rowling was able to do seven books around the same character); it starts sounding pretty selfish to ask for some more books featuring so-and-so. But I'll tell you, having just finished reading the last book in Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Arabesk Trilogy, Felaheen, I'm quite willing to be whatever kind of asshole necessary to convince him to write more books about Ashraf Bey and the streets of El Iskandryia.

Published in North America by Random House through their Bantam/Dell Spectra imprint, the Arabesk Trilogy has been one of those series that I forced myself to read slowly so I could extend its life for as long as possible. Grimwood created such a remarkable world, and peopled it with some of the most intriguing characters to trek though the pages of science fiction, it would have been easy to sit down and devour the books in one sitting.

Ashraf (or Raf as he's more often referred to) doesn't look like your typical member of a royal family in the Ottoman Empire, being rather blonder then normal. But as he discovered in the first book, Pashazade, blood matters more then blonde, even when you've no idea how you ended up with the blood in your veins. According to everyone who should know, Raf is the legitimate son of the emir, Moncef al-Mansur, because he was conceived during the five days he was married to his mother.

Until Raf had found himself whisked into El Iskandryia at the beginning of book one, he had never had any contact with either his father of any of their extended family. In fact, his mother had always insisted that he was the result of an affair she had had with a Swedish backpacker in Tunisia. While he may not have met his father, that doesn't mean his father hadn't exerted influence on him.

As a child Raf had been hospitalized a number of times in order to treat what he was told were kidney problems. It turns out that he was having a number of modifications done to his body and his mind. His eyes and hearing were augmented so he was able to see in the dark, and hear the slightest whisper through locked doors and a floor or two above or below him in a house. It turns out the expenses for these procedures were being met by the Emir.

In all his time in the Empire so far, Raf's neither been invited to meet the emir, nor seen hide nor hair of him. All that changes in Felaheen when an attempt is made on the emir's life and Raf is approached by the emir's head of security to investigate the attempt and help protect his father. Although Raf publicly turns the offer down, he takes off on his own to see what he can finally find out about his parentage and his genetic makeup.

As in the first two books, he's joined in the action by his ten-year-old niece, Hani, and his ex-fiancé Zara, who provide him information and motivation as he journeys into his own life. If Raf has spent the first two books in a state of confusion as to his identity, in Felaheen he takes the necessary steps to find out once and for all who or what he is.

Once again, Grimwood proves himself brilliant at descriptive writing. Whether in the hovels of the wretched, the mansions of the powerful, or the desolation of the desert, his words draw elaborate pictures that fill the reader's mind with the image of where the action takes place. Every last crevice in the wood paneling of an office's appearance, and the smallest dust devil in the desert are important for us to know about, and through his pen we see everything.

Of course, it's not just the physical that he's so adept at bringing to life; atmosphere, mood, and emotions of all stripes play through every section of the book like a musical score underpinning an opera. Very few writers of any genre have the ability to create mood as completely as Grimwood has done in both Felaheen and the whole Arabesk Trilogy.

Unfortunately the book eventually does end, and with it the series. My only disappointment with The Arabesk Trilogy? The fact that it ended. Of course there's nothing stopping Mr. Grimwood from coming back to these characters at some time in the future and picking up where they left off. I'm sure there's always some intrigue or other happening in El Iskandryia that they can be sucked into. Then the good things start all over again…

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of three books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion" and "Introduction to Greek Mythology For Kids". Aside from Blogcritics he contributes to and his work has appeared in the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and has been translated into numerous languages in multiple publications.

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