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Khaled is one of the genii converted to Islam on hearing Mohammed reading the Koran. As a genii, he has no soul, and will die for ever at the first blast of the trumpet that heralds the resurrection of the dead. Khaled, however, has fallen in love with a mortal woman and desires to become mortal and obtain a soul in order to have a chance of immortality in Paradise. It's the nature of a book like this that as soon as you know his quest you know he will succeed in it, but the path taken by the book was, to say the least, unexpected.

The book starts with Khaled achieving his initial goals. The middle section focuses on the relationship between Khaled and Zehowah, the woman he loves. Interestingly, Zehowah is depicted very much as an equal in the relationship, although her (legally and practically inferior) status as a Muslim wife is not glossed over. Eventually matters reach an impasse between them. The focus then shifts successively to the slave woman Almasta, her husband Abdullah, and the Sheikh of the Beggars, who between them provide the means by which the impasse between Khaled and Zehowah is resolved. The book ends very abruptly on a note of 'and they all lived happily ever after'.

Brian and I both found this a very interesting story, rendered unsatisfactory by its odd construction. The author obviously enaged with Khaled and Zehowah, who are well drawn characters. Quite why he switched focus to Almasta and Abdullah is not clear.

This book was picked up by Lin Carter for his Ballantyne Adult Fantasy series, but although I read most of those at the time, I had missed this one. Brian was reading the Ballantyne, and recommended it. Then he picked me up a copy of the 2nd edition printed in 1892, and reading the old Crown Octavo hardback book rather than the B format paperback certainly added to its charm.


Caroline M

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October 2017