In a nameless city on the edge of a desert lives Omari, probably the best thief ever to live there. On the verge of being exposed for his many crimes, Omari decides to set his house on fire, fake his death and start fresh somewhere else:
His mind sharpened to the fineness of a well-honed razor; a habit formed by a lifetime of cheating death. Without realizing it, he had undergone a swift and profound change: from dark despair to survival instincts.
What would have been a perfect plan turns into a catastrophe when the fire starts to spread and destroys the entire city. Aided by a mysterious old woman, and tormented by guilt over the destruction of the city, Omari must take the lead and guide the people to a better land across the desert, a land no one has ever been able to reach before. This is where the epic journey of this people starts. A journey fraught with difficulties, bandits, illness and more, where loyalties are tested, and a people will have to learn to overcome their differences and come together if they want to survive and reach the promised land.
I just loved this book! The story of this people was so fascinating I had to drop everything else I was reading and concentrate only on this. For starters, I really liked the characters. Omari felt like a real person, unlike the “normal” storybook hero, who rises up to the challenge and saves the day without presenting a single flaw. On the contrary, he is tormented by his sudden rise to power, as it is so much out of his character: as a thief used to being on his own, he struggles to even just care about the people he is supposed to lead. I also liked the fact that Omari (and as a matter of fact all the other characters) really evolve during the journey, as the challenges they face daily change them, for better or worse, as I think would only be natural in a situation such as theirs.
Another big, big bonus for me was the presence of so many strong female characters. From the enigmatic Umal to the fiercely independent Saba, the women in this book are not just bystanders, but are actively involved in the shaping of the story. They fight for their rights and to be treated as equals to men, and they really do make a difference when it counts most. The secondary characters in general are well-developed, with antagonists I loved to hate falling prey to their greed and lust for power in a very realistic way.
And the realism is what surprised me most in this book: even though there are some supernatural elements and some magic, the story as a whole is really believable, as are the dynamics of such a diverse group of people. The tensions between rich and poor and the various clans, the people’s difficulties in letting go of their previous lifestyle and social position or their reluctance to follow a thief’s lead all add to the feeling that the story is real – or at least it could.
This book is highly recommended to anyone looking for an epic adventure, a tale of friendship, love and betrayals with a touch of magical realism.