Just as Tolkien's novels take place in a fantasy world influenced by European culture and myths, this novel by Arab-American Saladin Ahmed draws on a fantasy world influenced by Middle Eastern culture and legends. Aged Adoulla has fought ghuls for several decades. Adoulla is sad because his beloved city Dhamsawwaat is now ruled by a Khalif, who exploits the people and inflicts harsh punishments for minor infractions of the law.
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Adoulla and his apprentice, Raseed, hear rumors of extremely powerful ghuls attacking small villages outside the city walls. They go out to the desert where they fight a ghul, winning the battle but sensing a sinister intelligence at work behind this creature. They find a lone survivor of a ghul attack on a small tribe. This survivor, Zamia, was shunned by her people because she is a shapeshifter, able to transform into a lion. Raseed feels attracted to Zamia, but tries to resist these feelings because he belongs to a strict celibate sect. The wounds these three suffer as a result of fighting ghuls are healed by Adoulla's good friends, Dawoud and his wife Litaz, both of whom also possess supernatural powers.
Adoulla and his allies learn that there is a connection between the ghul murders and a political conflict between the Khalif and a rebel known as the Falcon Prince. They enter the Khalif's palace where they battle against ghuls and the evil force controlling them.
Best part of story, including ending:
I enjoyed the setting of the novel, which carries an Arabian Nights flavor.
Best scene in story:
The scene where Zamia fully realizes her shapeshifting abilities and claims her lioness strength is very good.
Opinion about the main character:
I found it amusing that Adoulla is described as big-bellied and that he enjoys planning a feast for himself and his friends. Magicians and wizards are usually depicted as tall and lean, with little interest in mundane matters such as food.