Slaves of Shinar

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Slaves of the Shinar

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Ancient Mesopotamian civilizations clash in Allen's promising debut. Uruk, a thief and warrior from the jungles of Africa, and Ander, a slave escaped from the brutal Niphilim people, cross paths in the megalopolis of Kan-Puram, where Uruk has gone seeking a friendlier place to ply his trade and where Ander has gone to rally opposition to the coming Niphilim onslaught. The "fantasy" label is perhaps misapplied; Uruk and Ander fight their battles-brutal enough for an Erikson set piece-with mundane weapons, brawn and brains, and only the wholly fictional Niphilim society prevents it from being legitimate historical fiction. No part of the story involves any significant supernatural element. Yet despite the lack of wizardry, gods or strange beasts, something in Allen's writing raises the mundane to the level of the fantastic, and the feel of magic crackles through the pages, even if it's nowhere to be found in the words. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Long before the rule of Gilgamesh, king of the Sumarian city of Uruk near the Euphrates River (present-day Iraq), people told stories of the land of Shinar. From this harsh and inhospitable land rose two men destined to become living legends: Uruk, a nomad from the jungles of Africa, and Ander, a young slave. When the region is invaded by the fierce Niphilim, blond, warlike people from the north, Uruk and Ander work together to unite their people and free them from tyranny and slavery. Despite the occasional stumble by first-time novelist Allen, an overabundance of minor characters (a glossary would have been very helpful), and the unlikely fact that the Niphilim army is composed primarily of Amazon-like female warriors, this is a thought-provoking glimpse into the beginnings of a land and people very much in the forefront of current events. For additional titles that deal with ancient Mesopotamian history, consider Sam Barone's Dawn of Empire. An alternate purchase for fantasy collections.
—Jane Henriksen Baird

Kirkus Reviews
Historical fantasy, something like a long-range prequel to the ancient Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, from newcomer Allen. The Shinar lies between two rivers, the Tiger and the Ibex, and is surrounded by harsh desert and unforgiving mountains. Its dark-haired inhabitants, with their Bronze Age technology, face invasion by blond warrior Niphilim from northerly Dagonor. The Niphilim, among whom females are the dominant fighters, stole the secret of iron-making from defeated Kenanites. Huge, powerful, black-skinned adventurer Uruk, from jungles of sub-Saharan Africa, reaches the city Ur, where he acquires a faithful companion, Dog, and steals a huge carnelian from a child-sacrificing Niphilim priestess; exchanging the jewel for a magnificent iron sword, he heads for the much larger city Kan-Puram. Pale-skinned Ander, escaping brutal enslavement in the Niphilim mines, heads south to Kan-Puram, where he attempts to rally the city's powerful priesthoods against the imminent Niphilim invasion. As Uruk makes contact with Jared, Kan-Puram's king of thieves, Ander encounters an immovable obstacle: Kilimon, the pacifist high priest of Moloch's cult, who refuses to countenance preparations for war. Kilimon's deputy, Shamash, contacts Jared and arranges to have Kilimon assassinated. Uruk instead arranges to kidnap the recalcitrant priest, and escapes with the help of Jared and Dog. So, as Ander attempts to weld a pitchfork-waving rabble into an army, Uruk and Jared organize the thieves. Still to come: gory battles, daring rescues, dreadful diseases and desperate deeds. An evocative, tenacious, often arresting series of incidents with no real center; worth a try for sheer spectacle but don't expect toomuch involvement. Agent: Katherine Fausset/Watkins Loomis Agency Inc.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585679164
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 7/19/2007
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2007

    New stories out of old

    I really enjoyed this book. In this book Justin Allen tells the story behind many famous myths. It can be read as a sort of back-story to the Gilgamesh story, for example. What he does is take old stories and provides ¿realistic¿ back-stories for them in a way that is very well thought out and original. In some ways it reminds of me how Neil Gaiman used mythical characters in many of his stories, in particular the Sandman books, and wrote new stories for them in a way that both built on earlier myths and also deepened them and expanded them. Allen does much the same thing here for the ancient middle-east, building stories that will serve as back-ground for Gilgamesh and the bible stories, among others. This is a hard task but he does it well. He also reminded me of Gaiman to some degree with his great attention to detail in the story and his desire to get the details of his setting and characters right but without becoming such a slave to background that a new and original story cannot be told. This is one of the real strengths of the book. I also enjoyed very much the pacing of the book, the way that it built up tension and moved me through the story. This made the book a very enjoyable read. The book does have a few drawbacks. First, it attempts something very unusual in that it sits on the border of fantasy and historical fiction. It is not quite in either genre, not being ¿fantastical¿ in the sense of having magical or mythical beings (people worship gods but they never appear, for example) though not quite being historical fiction since it does not purport to tell the true story of any known person. And yet, the story is fantastic in that it tells a true story that never happened, and historical in that it fits well into what we know (little though that is) of the actual time. Allen pulls this off as well as we might hope a first-time novelist to do, but still sometimes the story pulls at the bounds of genre in a way that is a bit uncomfortable. This is a minor flaw and one I expect Allen will over-come as he writes more. Secondly, the copy-editing of the book is poor. This is obviously not Allen¿s fault though it sometimes detracts from the experience. I hope that Overlook will correct this for the paperback edition and for any future works of Allen¿s it might publish as it was sad to see an otherwise carefully worked out book marred in this way. Over all I highly recommend this book. It is likely to appeal to anyone who enjoys fantasy or historical fiction and perhaps especially to readers who enjoy such works as Gaiman¿s Sandman books and LeGuin¿s Earthsea books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2007

    A reviewer

    a perfectly plausible, fictional, sometimes heartwrenching, sometimes edge of the seat account of how noah's parents met. includes acts of god(floods, etc), genocidal wars, famines, droughts, pestilences, enslavements, and other common occurances of that time. even iraquis under saddam hussien lived better lives than these poor ancient people. we should read this and be glad of the freedom we all enjoy as americans.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2007

    war & adventure among early tribes in Iraq

    Justin Allen, Slaves of the Shinar, New York: The Overlook Press, 2007. Fresh imaginative insight into how the world before the Great Flood might have been drives this swashbuckling tale of a war between tribes in the Shinar, land that is now Iraq. Larger-than-life men and women stage epic battles in a world of crude dimensions and violent possibilities. Savage pre-humans are forced into battle by blonde warrior-invaders called Niphilim, who possess advanced technology and have subjected legions of slaves to amass riches and expand their empire. Cruel Niphilim Amazonian-type women warriors and their troops of men stage a war of subjection upon the indigenous people. Local farmers have already been threatened and have moved to marginal settlement towns where thieves and priests rule. Into this chaotic world enters Uruk, who has lost his great love in Sub-Sahara Africa and has struck out alone to cross the desert and seek adventure and riches. Strong, agile and opportunistic, Uruk, with only the dog that he finds along the way, by accident, finds purpose in the Shinar. Coincidence of the escape of Ander, one of the Niphilim slaves, and the arrival of Uruk into the bleak landscape of the Shinar brings about the climatic event that defines the future of the region and the development of the characters of this colorful story. The fate of freedom is the stake of this war. Valorous acts and the sustenance of hope against bad odds challenge cruelty, slavery, and avarice in Slaves of the Shinar. Justin Allen¿s language is his own, and it takes the reader galloping through pages to see what happens in his debut novel. Free of embellishment and cliche, Allen¿s story entertains as well as stimulates the reader. The book would make a movie as unique as the book proves to be. Carol MacGregor historian

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2007

    Kept me interested but not on the edge of my seat.

    Vague traces of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Interesting development of characters with creative imagination. Wanted to get to know the characters a little better and at times had a hard time following the story. Uruk, the main character, did have a fairly plausible thread pulling story together from the beginning to the end. Some of the sub-plots detracted from the main story because they didn't seem connected or were just too far fetched to be believable. I would like to have seen more development of the main characters. This is the author's first book. I am looking to see what he does in the future.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2007

    A must read and keep book

    This book should be read by anyone looking for adventure plus history and a wonderful use of vocabulary. It is not a waste of time to read. You will talk to others about this book. I could identify with the characters and their situations or at least I learned from the problems set before them. I hated when the book was over.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2007

    Brilliant Writer

    When I began reading Slaves of Shinar, I was less than enthusiastic, but that changed quickly. I soon found that I could not put it down and read on, using time I had not allotted for reading. The writer displayed a great imagination coupled with a brave word usage, and I am looking forward to new books written by him.

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