Summary: For years, Tamazi felt she was nothing like the other slave-girls. It was not until her master disappeared, the Great Vizier of the desert kingdom of Rilmaaqah, that a power older than the sands themselves took hold of her; a power that could finally free her, or enslave her forever.
Rilmaaqah is in chaos. The fires of rebellion spread, and the winds of change threaten the Mageocracy, as the common people rise with the courage to claim their share. But the sands hide many things, and it falls to an unlikely group of people to put a stop to death, before she sings her lullaby to the living.
Thoughts: I can’t say that Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy is popular these days, exactly, but I do seem to come across more and more of it as time goes on. Shattered Sands falls firmly into that category, which makes it a welcome change from most of the other books in the SPFBO, which are largely the European-based fantasy that has become a genre standard.
The story is an interesting one, and it starts out grabbing the reader’s attention rather than allowing for a slow build. There is a power struggle in Rilmaaqah, political lines one the verge of shifting. Moreso when the ruling vizier vanishes, taken by force, and the only person who comes close to being a witness is his slave, Tamazi, who stood outside his door when the disappearance happened. Tamazi, who seems like little more than what her surface shows, until an unforeseen event shows her to be something far more. Running parallel to her story is that of Sabra, a young woman whose father has died under mysterious circumstances, and who, without his knowledge of tonics, is now prone to debilitating headaches that belie a far more serious and interesting condition. As these two go about their journeys of discovery, alliance shift, war approaches, and magic seems to be at the centre of it all.
I’m a fan of non-European inspiration in fantasy worlds, so Shattered Sands definitely delivers in that regard. But more than that, Saraband takes the obvious inspiration and builds upon it, not simply transposing one region from this world into a secondary world, but using it as a foundation to build something more concrete and stand-alone. It is more than just its source. Saraband plays with language in a way that looks, at first glance, purely like Arabic, but there are enough differences to say that the language, too, is built upon a solid foundation until it becomes something new in its own right. I love seeing the little touches like history and geography, things that don’t have to be there per se, but that make for a much more interesting setting when they are. So kudos to Saraband for putting the work in where worldbuilding is concerned.
So why the relatively low rating if the world is interesting and the story is good? Because, in short, this book just wasn’t ready. It suffers from an all-too-common problem with self-published novels: a lack of editing. This ranges from very odd turns of phrase (such as a comment that rumours don’t “make [someone] justice”) to incorrect word usage (“recipient” was used when “receptacle” would have made far more sense”), common mistakes in similarly spelled words (“then” versus “than”) to just plain missing words (“I’m a servant Emperor Apion”). The language often had a rather stilted feel to it, too, which is somewhat forgivable since it lends well to an epic story that seems like a story, rather than a series of epic events that one is watching or participating in, and given the setting, the author may have been going for an Arabian Nights feel in that regard. Also I’m aware that English is not the author’s primary language, which can make writing a large story that much more difficult.
However, I feel that just underscores the need for solid editing, rather than excusing a lack of it.
Shattered Sands definitely has great potential, and I can see why it made it to the second round of the challenge. There’s a great story in here, one that was entertaining to read, but the lack of editing makes it a contributor to the notion that self-published books are rushed to market sooner than they ought to be, and I can’t recommend it much when part of the job remains undone. I can, however, see returning to this book and rereading it if it gets the editing it needs. Good stories deserve quality treatment in that regard, and this book deserves better than to suffer for its lack.