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Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Secrets of the Sands" by Leona Wisoker (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu and Cindy Hannikman)

Official Leona Wisoker Website
Read a Sample of the novel at the Mercury Retrograde Press Website
Order "Secrets of the Sands" HERE

INTRODUCTION: "Secrets of the Sands" is a novel I found more or less by chance since I saw the cover on another review site and it intrigued me and then I checked and really loved the excerpt as writing goes though I expected a reasonably standard story. To my surprise the novel turned out to be quite different from what I expected and much better as storyline goes, while the prose kept the same quality that attracted me to the book first.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Secrets of the Sands" stands at about 400 pages and is divided into twenty nine numbered chapters. There is a map at the beginning and a glossary at the end. The novel consists of two main threads that follow three main characters, Cafad Scratha, a disgraced desert lord from a clan that was mysteriously massacred some years ago , Idisio, a young street thief with an uncanny intuition that becomes Cafad's unwilling servant and Alyea, a young protegee of new king Oruen who is sent on a mission that may be her downfall.

While "Secrets of the Sands" starts as a traditional adventure fantasy within an epic context, it twists and turns quite a lot and it goes into quite unexpected directions, becoming darker and much more interesting than I expected. To start with the novel reminded me strongly of Maria Snyder's superb Study and Glass series but then "Secrets of the Sands" moved towards "new gritty" territory and I would strongly recommend it for fans of both traditional 90's fantasy and the "new 00's" genre.

"Secrets of the Sands" has two threads: one that follows the semi-exiled desert lord Cafad Scratha and his accidental servant and former street boy Idisio as they try to do a good faith accounting of their mission from new king Oruen to research the history of the northern non-desert and dominated by an intolerant religion part of the kingdom until they stumble on unexpected happenings, people, facts and conspiracies that will change a lot what we think we know about the world of the novel. This one is a traditional picaresque adventure to a large extent, though the twists and turns make it quite unpredictable

The second thread follows Alyea, a young girl of mid-nobility who happens to be a one time lover of the king and current protegee but with a dark and violent past in times when the Northern Church was dominant in the capital too and she was branded as a "heretic"; she is sent to administer the Scratha domain in the name of King Oruen; her two mysterious and seemingly at odds "advisers" Chaq and Micru are supposed to "instruct" her in the way of the desert until another mysterious character, ultra-rich merchant Deiq makes his interest in her known too; this thread is just superb end to end, a thread of exploration, intrigue, magic, initiation rites and much, much more.

Of course the two threads converge though again not quite in a conventional way and the novel gets to a satisfying conclusion with the big picture to be explored further.

"Secrets of the Sands" is also quite dark with a world in which slavery, rape, and killing are facts of life and it all depends on "whom does it to whom" as "justice" and the "law" are concerned.

Highly, highly recommended as a haunting novel and a page turner and an A+ as an average of a solid A thread and an A++ one, while the announced sequel became another asap novel for me.

When I read the book description for Secrets of the Sands I was very intrigued. The dessert setting and lord system seemed interesting and I thought this was going to be just another fantasy title that was middle of the road for myself. However Secrets of the Sands surprised me and was a lot more then I expected.

The beginning of the book didn't seem to have anything really outstanding. There was the thief and he steals something and gets caught. At about page 80 or so something really snapped and I was hooked on this book. I couldn't put it down, I took it everywhere with me, I just had to know what was going to happen.

There are many elements of Leona Wisoker's work that made this book such an enjoyable experience: the characters, the creativity of the world, and the writing style.

The characters that came about in Secrets of the Sands all had a bit of mystery and mystic about them. There was just enough information to grab the readers attention but lead them to keep wondering, "What will happen" or "What about this". It's hard to keep that bit of mystery going without appear as if the writer is purposely not telling readers something just to keep them reading. Wisoker knows how to reveal information at just the right pace to keep the reader in the loop yet allow them not to know every single bit of information in the book.

I also found that as the reader went along with the novel, they grew with the characters. Both main characters completely change and transform before the readers eyes. So by the time the novel ends, it's almost as if the readers have two different characters before them. It was really amazing to see this with the characters in such a short time, and by the end of the novel I was completely hooked on almost every character to the point that I cared what happened to them.

Another area that Wisoker excels in is the world building. Secrets of the Sands takes place in a mostly dessert world that has lords, and a huge political system. The political system is complex without being so confusing you lose the reader. I was impressed with the depth of the world that was created. Not only the political system is developed nicely, there are also customs and rituals that are explained and described throughout the novel. All of this adds a bit of personality and made me fell as if I could completely envision the world that was created.

A part of the world that Wisoker created was that this complete world wasn't perfect. There is the temptation of sex, drugs, and thieves living in the streets. It's a dark and hard world but not so overly dark that it got depressing. In a way it was telling the readers the truth of the world and not hiding anything but yet not going into such detail that it turns into a gritty novel.

The last element that tied the whole novel together was the style of writing. First, Wisoker choose to alternate chapters of the book between the two character threads that were going on. This makes the novel fly by as it's hard to get bored with a plot line as the story is jumping at just the right moment to keep the reader wondering what is happening yet continuing on with another plot. It constantly kept me wondering what was going on with one part or the other at all times. Another area, and probably the most enjoyable part of the novel was the humor element that was added to the story line. The characters use humor or wise cracks occasionally in the book, but it all comes across as very natural and it's not so often that it's over used in the novel. There were a couple times I found myself chuckling or laughing with a joke that was told. This brought a refreshing approach and it just appeared very natural to the story.

In the end, I was highly impressed with this novel. There is something about this book that makes me want to reread it again. I completely agree with the comparison to Maria V Snyder, Leona Wisoker has tremendous talent and I can't wait to see what she brings to the table with the second novel of this series. The hardest part is going to be the wait for the second novel.


Mihai A. said...

It is an excellent novel and I can't wait its sequel either, because I am very curious to see where the story goes.
I more than happy now that I started my blog, because it is the reason for discovering lovely books such as "Secrets of the Sands" of Michael J. Sullivan's novels that otherwise I might have missed :)

Liviu said...

Actually I saw the book on your blog first in the "Reading Gadget" and the cover attracted my attention as mentioned

I also completely agree with the joys of discovering smaller press books that otherwise I most likely would have never heard of

Cindy said...

I agree with both of you! I think it's amazing to find other authors that might have gone unnoticed if it weren't for the chances I've gotten. There's a handful of really good smaller press I would have never found without it.

Dominc Cilli said...

I wrote the review on Sf site I assume this is where you saw it. I am glad you enjoyed it as much as I did
Dominic Cilli

Bastard said...

Just finished this book 2 nights ago and though it was just extremely good.

Wisoker seems to have big plans for the world, with 3 more novels in the series, a prequel set of novels, and maybe a trilogy after Children of the Sands.

Hopefully she'll be successful and the quality continues so that these books get done. Certainly she's deserving of the current praise she has been getting and deserves more attention than what she's been getting.


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