When I first read this book in 2005, I thought it was one of the BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it absolutely. I thought it was a wonderfully, magically compelling read. I had no expectations for it, not my usual genre, an unfamiliar-to-me author, and I was just wowed. So I decided to reread it this week, and it was LOVELY. It was easy for me to see just why I loved it then and now. It is just an absorbing historical fantasy with an exotic atmospheric (almost fairy tale) feel to it. I enjoyed the setting, the characters, the storytelling. I loved the themes of this one: justice and mercy, redemption, destiny and free will. It's a novel that celebrates life, in a way, that even celebrates living rightly. I even see it as a coming-of-age or turning-around story.
My first review:
As a young man, Walid (Wah-leed) ibn Hujr dreamed of being a great man, a great ruler, and a great poet. He wanted to be loved, admired, appreciated, and respected. And since he was born a prince, son of King Hujr ruler of Kinda (in Arabia), he thought his dreams would be easily attained—especially since many thought he’d been touched by a djinn at birth. (Djinn being a genie). However, Walid failed to consider what fate had in mind.
A gifted and beloved prince, Walid was certain that he was the best poet in Kinda. Wanting to earn his father’s approval to go to Ukaz to enter a poetry contest, he organizes a smaller poetry contest for the kingdom of Kinda—arrogance and vanity assuring him that his winning is a matter of certainty.
However, when a peasant man—a carpet weaver—Hammad ibn al-Haddad, wins the contest three years in a row, the once magnanimous prince becomes embittered and resolves to make the peasant pay for his superiority. He forces the peasant to leave his home, his wife, and his three sons (a merchant, a shepherd, and his youngest son who has not chosen a career yet) to become the kingdom’s archivist and historian. He is told he must read and organize the kingdom’s archives (library). The task is monumental and overwhelming. He begs for mercy, but none is given. Walid does grant him this, however, if he can organize the archives and weave him a carpet, then he can be free to return to his home.
After four years, a thinner and wearier man presents himself to the King—Walid’s father having died in the subsequent years. Walid is surprised, yet wanting to remain a man of his word, he adds a stipulation to his earlier request: he must weave a carpet “that will contain the entire history of the human race” (62). Hammad is subsequently driven mad on his quest to create such a carpet, but in his madness finds unusual peace. Even Walid notices the change in him and becomes scared of him noting that there was something not quite human about him now. Once when Walid visited him in his workshop, Hammad tells him mysteriously, “Know that you are a mere mortal who has unleashed powers more terrible than a mighty storm, and that as a mortal, you cannot stop their wrath. Not anymore. It is far too late” (73).
After considering these seemingly prophetic words, Walid decides to release the man from his “curse” and allow him to go home. He opens the door to discover him dead, collapsed on the floor, and the completed carpet. One look at the carpet and Walid becomes convinced that the old man spoke the truth; in shame and fear, he locks the carpet into his secret room. But his life (and destiny) is forever changed. His kingdom begins to fall apart. His soldiers, his servants, his household begins to distrust him. Betrayal seems inevitable.
In the middle of the night, a former friend and advisor slip into the palace with two companions their goal to steal the king’s treasure. Instead of silver or gold, they find a carpet. The king is awakened by a nightmare about the carpet—and so being a paranoid man—he decides to make sure the carpet is still locked away. He discovers that his dream is all too true, just in time to receive a club on the head. As soon as he awakes, however, he dashes off to the stables for a horse so he can pursue the thieves; he’s still dressed in his nightgown!
Since his plan was foolhardy—to begin a dash across the desert without any provisions—it’s no surprise when he collapses in the sand certain that his death is hours away. He is saved by a stranger, an outlaw. But this close-call with death won’t be his last.
THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING is an adventure quest with unexpected twists and turns. As Walid sets out on his journey to recover the carpet and restore past wrongs, what he discovers is that it is never too late to change one’s self. It is an adventurous quest to restore and redeem his own life.
Set in Arabia in 6th century C.E., THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING is an exciting adventure story with probing questions. Is there such a thing as fate? Can a man ever truly make amends for his past mistakes? Is a man defined by his mistakes? Can a person really change his character?
First published in Spain in 2002, THE LEGEND OF THE WANDERING KING has been translated into English by Dan Bellm. It is rich in pre-Islamic Arabic culture. An author’s note explains the time and culture which is depicted in the book. (Yes, the book is based loosely on a pre-Islamic legendary poet, Imru’l Qays.)
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews