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BOOK
Slaves of the Shinar (Hardback)

Author: Justin Allen
Duckworth
RRP: 16.99, US $25.95, Cdn $32.00
ISBN: 978 1 5856 7916 4
Available 27 September 2007


The lands of the Shinar are in turmoil; with the tyrannical Niphilim soldiers bent on conquest nobody is safe. Two disparate men will determine the fate of the war. Ander, an escaped slave dreams of raising an army and crushing the Niphilim who had kept him as a slave in their barbarous mines, and Uruk, a man from the southern jungles who fate has decreed will die having failed to save his friend. Fate hangs heavy over these two men. Only time will tell if they can become masters of their own destiny...

Slaves of the Shinar is the debut novel by Justin Allen. The book is a little hard to categorise. It's part epic fantasy, part historical novel with lashings of sword play. When I first picked up the book I was thinking that Allen was retelling the story of Gilgamesh and in a very small part this turned out to be true. Shinar is set in a time before the building of Uruk's wall in Gilgamesh's time, which would set it around twenty-six to twenty-seven B.C.

Although this is not a period that I have a great deal of knowledge about, the minor details within the book give the impression that it was well researched, or as well as that period of history can be. Allen provides a living breathing world in which to set his story. There is some licence taken with the inclusion of the savages which are character types more associated with fantasy novel.

Overall the book is well written, though I felt that the last third of the book lost some of the pace that had been driving the story for the first two thirds. Allen has a nice ear for dialogue and a good grasp of characterisation. I actually cared what happened to Ander and Uruk, though Ander's thirst for revenge, at any price, did alienate me . But then this is also the mark of a well written character - if at the end of the book you have an emotional stance about their actions and choices.

If the book has a hero it is nomad warrior thief Uruk, most probably Allen's greatest creation in the book. Early on in the book he is told that he will die after he has failed to save the life of a friend. This little device is included like a detective novel clue. If he cannot outrun his fate, then who will play the part of the dead friend? As the book progresses many are offered up as the possible friend and Allen is guilty of more than a little misdirection, making the reveal all the more effective.

Apart from the quibble about the last third of the book Slaves of the Shinar is an impressive first novel and well worth a read. Apparently Allen is working on his second novel, having read Shinar I look forward to its publication.

Charles Packer

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