In the bracing first installment of Bell's (The Goblin Wood) planned three-part fantasy series, The Book of the Sorahb, the land of Farsala is facing invasion by the notoriously vicious warrior nation of Hrum. The temple priests say that the gods must be assuaged in order to save Farsala, so they demand the commander of the military sacrifice his 15-year-old daughter, Soraya. Soraya's exile to the wilderness-where, ostensibly, the fates will decide whether to let her live or die-is one of three stories that unfold. More compelling are the other two: Jiaan, a bright young ex-peasant who is taken under the commander's wing and rises to the occasion when the day of battle arrives; and Kavi, a crooked merchant, captured by the Hrum while peddling fake gold merchandise and forced to become a spy against his homeland. The cast is fully formed: the bad guys aren't entirely bad, the good guys not entirely good (the Hrum appear enlightened, even giving full citizenship rights to their captors, while the Farsala at times appear more ruthless). Another subplot concerns a fascinating back story of two star-crossed lovers and their offspring who is to become the messianic savior of the Farsala nation, and who promises to figure heavily in the second volume. The first few chapters are a bit intimidating, even confusing, though: Bell constructs her world with a daunting new vocabulary, and readers will likely have to read the book's opening more than once. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The twelve major houses of Farsalan deghan must show solidarity and loyalty to the gahn as they prepare to battle the Hrum. Merahb, ruler of the Leopard house, must sacrifice his daughter. Left alone to die in the woods, she is rescued and hidden in a peasant's cottage. A peddler is hired to inform Merahb of her welfare, but he turns traitor and supplies the Hrum with Farsalan military plans. The first battle is decisive and a clear victory for the Hrum. The Hrum have a law, however, that a country must be conquered in a year, or left in peace, and a small group of Farsalan survivors plan to hide and hold one enclave until the year is up. Although the Farsalan commander died, his bastard son and royal daughter survived to carry on the struggle. Flame is the first volume of "The Book of Sorahb" and sets the stage for future conflict and bloody resolution. It is full of treachery and arrogance, ruthless competition and bravado, battles and bloodshed. 2003, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, Ages 14 to 18.
Janet L. Rose
Flame is about the legacy of a great fallen warrior Sorahb who was slain by his unknowing father, Rostam. Rostam's sorrow was so great that the god Azura took pity and promised to keep Sorahb until the country was in dire trouble, at which time Sorahb would return and be Farsala's champion. This story is the beginning of that dire trouble. The author makes the complex story line flow so it can be followed easily. It is one of the best books I have ever read, and anyone who loves to read will enjoy this book. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Simon & Schuster, 352p,
Kelsey Sands, Teen Reviewer
Set in the imaginary land of Farsala, this fantasy features three teenagers: the spirited lady Soraya, daughter of the commander of the army; the commander's loyal bastard son, Soraya's half-brother Jiaan; and a clever peasant peddler named Kavi. Long at peace, Farsala is now in danger of attack by the Hrum, who have already conquered "half the known world." Much like the Romans, the Hrum have perfected the art of war but they also have laws to protect citizens and even slaves, in contrast to the Farsala, a society of "haughty, ruthless" nobles and downtrodden peasants. These nobles are superstitious, and demand a sacrifice by the army commander of what he loves best; his daughter Soraya; to help ward off the Hrum's attack. Instead, he arranges to secret his adored child away in a far land, with the help of Jiaan and Kavi. There Soraya makes friends with a desert tribe and learns to do magic and control fire. Meanwhile, Jiaan goes to war with his father, determined to at least hold off the Hrum for a year so that Farsala can attain the desirable status of an allied state rather than a conquered territory. In yet another plotline, Kavi, who has been a spy for both sides, decides that he must free the Hrum's Farsalan slaves. The narrative point of view switches between the main characters, interspersed with episodes from an ancient Persian myth. Bell, author of other imaginative YA novels (I especially recommend A Matter of Profit), writes engagingly, blending history, myth, fantasy, and adventure, and readers will enjoy getting to know the strong-willed Soraya, the steadfast Jiaan, and the resourceful Kavi. It will be interesting to see how Bell brings them together in future volumes tofight their common enemy. This is more in the vein of historical fiction than fantasy but should appeal to fans of both genres. (The Book of Sorahb, Volume 1). KLIATT Codes: JS; Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Simon & Schuster, 352p.,
Gr 6-10-Adventure, mythology, politics, military tactics, and intrigue combine in this sweeping fantasy that draws its underpinnings from ancient Persian poetry and the relentless march of the Roman army. The story of Farsala and its fight to remain free of the domination of the Hrum is told from the viewpoint of three young people: Jiaan, the illegitimate son of Merahb, High Commander of the Farsalan army; Merahb's spoiled daughter, Soraya; and Kavi, a traveling merchant who has suffered at the hands of the ruling deghans. As the Hrum army advances inexorably on Farsala, these three discover their own unique roles in the survival of their country. Notions of freedom, ability, and responsibility play out against a panorama of magic and majesty. The crisp dialogue, finely tuned characterizations, and vivid descriptions make the people and landscape seem as real as those in any grand historical epic. The inevitable comparison between Rome and Hrum adds to the feeling of reality, while the inclusion of the ancient legend about Rostam and Sorahb not only increases the sense of mythological mystery, but also provides a backdrop for Farsala's lush, Persianlike culture. Fantasy lovers as well as boys who delight in military minutiae will be left waiting breathlessly to discover the fate of Farsala and the three young people on whom its survival depends.-Sharon Grover, Arlington County Department of Libraries, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Three complex characters narrate this richly textured story, based partly on an ancient Persian legend, as their land is threatened by war. Proud Soraya, a deghass (noble), is hustled into hiding by her commander father when the corrupt temple demands her blood sacrifice. Jiann, the same commander's child but with a peasant mother, struggles with the confusing military and familial roles his half-deghan, half-peasant status requires. Kavi, a clever peddler with a deghan-crippled hand, becomes a spy for the attacking Hrum. These three meet only rarely, but their decisions are connected in ways they barely understand. What will it mean if Soraya learns djinn magic from pale-skinned desert dwellers? How will perhaps-mythical fighter Sorahb (his story told in offset italic chapters) become real again? Class and family issues, and moral differences between societies, are interwoven so well with adventure and archetypal resonance that depth arrives unannounced. The second volume wants only a more detailed map as Soraya, Jiann, and Kavi throw themselves heart-first into the war. (map) (Fantasy. YA)