The City Of Silk And Steel by Mike Carey, Linda Carey & Louise Carey (book review)

January 9, 2017 | By | Reply More

‘The City Of Silk And Steel’ is a standalone novel about the concubines, children and servants of the fictional desert city of Bessa. When the sultan of Bessa, Bokhari Al-Bokhari, is murdered by the holy man usurper, Hakkim Mehdad, the concubines, their children and the female servants are sent to a neighbouring sultan as a gift. After Hakkim discovers a certain deception, the concubines have facilitated, he orders all four hundred-odd women and children to be murdered en route. They manage to escape the death order by hiding in the desert and manage to survive by utilising all their individual and collective skills to create their own city of women.

The story follows the lives of many of the main characters of the book, both their present and past. There is the Rem, the librarian of Bessa, who the Djinn have gifted/cursed to see the future, who teaches the harem to read at a time when only male scholars did. Gursoon is one of the oldest concubines and, once a naive dancer, has over the years gained wisdom and influence over the sultan and the citizens of Bessa and helps lead the harem. Zuleika, a trained assassin, had joined the harem to kill the sultan but changed her mind and decided to stay when she found a family among the harem women. She protects and teaches them to defend themselves. Farhat, a servant of the concubines, uses her embroidery skills for trade to help supply the harem and Anwar Das, previously a bandit and camel thief, turns into a diplomat and spy for their new city.

The chapters in the book jumps from the present to the past and goes into the side stories of many of the characters of the harem and the people of Bessa, even that of Hakkim Mehdad. Though the book deals with serious and terrible events and, we know from the beginning, that this is the tale of the rise and fall of Bessa, the book never loses its humorous and hopeful undertone.

‘The City Of Silk And Steel’ is written in a similar style to ‘The Arabian Nights’ and this adds to the fairy tale-like quality of the book. The city the characters build in Bessa is the moral of the fairy tale. Bessa becomes a democratic city where everyone is given fair treatment and opportunities to learn and work and its enemies are shown mercy when it is due. This, of course, causes unrest and consternation among many of its neighbours in the desert.

‘The City Of Silk And Steel’ is a fantastical book. There are magical and unbelievable elements to the book, such as the improbable way four hundred women and children with little to no survival skills manage to live together and thrive in a desert for many years. But when you read it as a fairy tale, these inconsistencies become part of the larger story of how the forgotten and abused people of Bessa work hard and rise to make a better life for themselves and their families in a cruel and uncertain world.

Supreethi Selvam

January 2017

(pub: Gollancz, 2013. 541 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-13266-5

pub: Gollancz, 2013. 537 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-13267-2)

check out websites: www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.gollancz.com

Category: Books, Fantasy

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