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Friday, March 16, 2012

Steampunk Novella Thoughts: Omar The Immortal and Aladdin and His Wonderfully Infernal Device (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order the Novella HERE

Official Synopsis: In the exotic land of Marrakesh, Omar Bakhoum joins an airship expedition into the freezing north in search of a fabled country called Ysland, but howling ice storms, legions of ghosts, and a deadly samurai stand between Omar and his goal.

His journey has barely begun before the members of the expedition team are afflicted, and as the last remaining foreigner on board, Omar is accused of heinous acts. The one thing that can help him find the real killer is Omar’s ancient sword, haunted by the souls of thousands of dead sages and warriors. But this sword may be the very thing that dooms the entire expedition to a watery grave.

Overview/Analysis: Omar the Immortal is a novella in the Europa Series by Joseph Robert Lewis. I came across this book on Goodreads and wanted to know more about it so went to the author’s website wherein I was informed of his “Other Earth” series. This is a world wherein Europe never recovered from the last Ice Age and the world saga is more equatorial. The nations in North Africa, Middle East and Indian Subcontinent have progressed to different natures which might have been. This concept is something which has previously explored a bit, most recently done by Kate Elliott in her Spiritwalker trilogy.

When I had requested the books from the author, the author had specifically asked that I read his debut trilogy The Halcyon series which specifically establishes the world and begins the reader’s journey in to the exotic world created by the author. The chronological order of the books in the series is:
- Omar the Immortal [Europa 1]
- The Burning Sky [Halcyon 1]
- The Broken Sword [Halcyon 2]
- The Bound Soul [Halcyon 3]
- Freya the Huntress [Europa 2]
- The Dragon and The Lotus [Chimera 1]
- Wren the Fox Witch [Europa 3]
- Forthcoming sequel [Chimera 2]

Thus as is visible above, there are more books in the series and the author specifically requested that I start with the Halcyon books as that’s the way author intends for readers to begin with. I however chose to go the chronological order as this way I would get to read a standalone novella instead of three books and secondly somehow I enjoy books in the correct timeline (a personal quirk, I’m afraid).

The story opens four years before the events of the Halcyon trilogy and has our protagonist Omar Bakhoum arriving in Tingis, a city of Marrakkesh. He is on a mission as he seeks passage to a land called Ysland wherein he believes he will find answers about the mysteries of the world and perhaps the strange substance that is “Sun-Steel”. He finds that his footsteps are being traced and while he plans a quiet journey, troubles never leave his trail. The story packed into this novella is quite an exciting one as the reader gets frequently introduced to new lands, words and phrases which are a bit hard to follow but if one follows the map given in the start of the tale, a lot of it makes sense. This book perhaps mentions a lot of things which might have been familiar to readers of the previous Halcyon trilogy and this was my fault as I started reading this book first. However new readers need not be alarmed as the author does not emulate Steven Erikson and drop the reader into his world without any information. The minutiae and quirks are reveled slowly and surely and most readers can easily grasp the intricacies of the world.

Omar Bakhoum as a character is interesting however we do not get to know much of his backstory which causes a lack of empathy of sorts however it isn’t too much for the rader to become disinterested. What did hold my interest was the mention of Sun-Steel and the fascinating way several kingdoms seemed to have developed. The world-building is the true focus of the story and also its best feature, the reader will definitely be intrigued about the world presented and so the hook is quite cleverly inserted. I will definitely be reading the next installments of the Europa trilogy along with the Halcyon trilogy as well. The author is quite a fan of steampunk and so there are quite some elements of it in this book but they are rather smartly molded to fit the features of this world which gels with the story and makes the fit that much more cohesive.

The only drawback of the story is that the events fly by rather quickly and certain events happen a bit too easily but measured against the space constraints of a novella, they can be understood and overlooked. Lastly I was very much intrigued by this sneak peek of the Other Earth and so I can heartily recommend this series to all readers of the fantastic and alternate-earth stories. I’ll be also reading the other books to see how the author sustains and spreads the world showcased in this novella.

Order the Novella HERE

Official Synopsis: From the imagination behind the award-winning Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series comes a steampunk novella to a legend from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Aladdin is a street-wise thief that finds himself under the tutelage of a world-renown illusionist. He is escorted deep into the deserts in search of a treasure beyond his wildest dreams, and discovers instead something far more valuable—a destiny.

Overview/Analysis: Aladdin’s story is one which is quite popular and with the awesome Disney movie, I’m sure most readers are definitely aware of its particulars. Tee Morris is quite a steampunk fan and is also the husband of Philippa Ballantine and they together write the Ministry of Peculiar Occurences, an alternate-historical, steampunk laced series. Thus with such a background it is not so strange to see the author come up with this interpretation of this beloved fable. I was also alerted to the particulars of this book by Melissa’s review that really made me want to read it so I went ahead and bought it.

The story opens rather excitingly as we get to see Aladdin as mentioned in all stories, a thief of slight build but a quick mind and even quicker skills. We see him doing what he does best and then are given a small tour of his habitats via a chase a la the original story. However the twist being that he soon meets someone purporting to be his lost family. Glad on rediscovering such bonds, Aladdin soon gets shunted on to a journey wherein he will discover the stuff of legends and perhaps his fame as well.

The best part of the story are how the author moulds the framework of the original tale to the steampunk elements and yet manages to give a tale which is fresh and funny. The addition of the genie is something which was very cool as his presence is integral to the storyline however it might not be in the way readers think it will be. The twist of the sciences present in the world that cause things to appear as magic is something not quite properly explained and remains the biggest flaw of the story. The story however simply runs with this concept and if the readers can let go of that preface then the story is quite enjoyable.

Aladdin’s character is not tinkered with much and is present as most of us remember from our childhood tales. The main character is shown to be quite a smart thinker and this trait is nicely showcased through out the story within various situations. What I liked best was the author’s twist on the story about the Genie and the world settings similar to the novella mentioned previously, is something which will intrigue the reader. There’s also a passing nod to the legend of Arabian Nights and I would love to see the author explore more in this milieu and give us longer stories featuring Aladdin and the genie.

The ending while precise also seems rather packaged conveniently and this perhaps is again due to the novella structure, with both stories I felt that the endings didn’t really match up to the whole story but this might be perceived differently by readers. All in all Tee Morris’ solo effort is definitely an exciting one and I hope he follows though with this story as well as provide life to other steampunk fairy tales as the scope illustrated in this one points to a rather engaging and funny imagination. I would easily recommend this novella to all steampunk lovers and those wanting to try something new from a relatively new author, heartily recommended!


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

I like the sounds of the Omar The Immortal novella. I'm going to have to look into those books some. I might have to try that out.

And thank you! So glad to hear you read Aladdin, and enjoyed it. :) I'm surprised my review caught your eye. That is cool. And I loved the take on the Genie as well. I was wondering how the steampunk idea would play with the lack of magic in this world, where mechanical seemed to be the magic.

Wonderful reviews!

Mihir said...

Hi Melissa

If you do try the Other Earth series, I would suggest starting with halcyon trilogy as it would be a better starting point.

The Genie twist was pretty cool and thanks to your review I got interested in the book, I'm hoping that the author does write a sequel.


FREE DOCS said...

WOW,I love the sword in the cover


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