An engaging chapter book that blends adventure, friendship, battles, mystery, and faith over 292 pages of easy reading and rich storytelling. The book appeals to readers 10 and up with it being completely clean and age appropriate for anyone younger who can handle the storyline. The characters are not just active and practicing Muslims, but the story too, is Islamic in nature. The story is unabashedly pro-Islam and slightly dogmatic, but not overly preachy and faith is woven in seamlessly throughout the story.
The Sultan of the Islamic Empire is having a recurring dream that involves a floating city falling when a flying object hits it, when he asks his guiding Imam what it means he learns that the city will be destroyed unless the Sultan assists. Not knowing where the city is, what the object is, and trusting the Sheikh explicitly, a retired soldier is brought back in to service to find the city and save it. Adam, before he leaves the capital is joined by two others to help him on his journey, Ali and Umar. Ali is a quiet man whose voice when reciting is absolutely beautiful and whose eyesight and archery skills are unparalleled. Umar is the Muezzin and the Grand Mosque and a seemingly close figure to the Sultan with familial ties to the area. The trio sets off to Benghazi to talk with some Bedouins who were ambushed by some man-beasts and are too afraid to speak of the encounter. It is believed that their experience and the dream are linked.
To reach Benghazi they must travel first by boat for about a week, while at sea they come across an abandoned vessel that has but one survivor and a lion aboard. After the lion is killed and the injured man brought with them, they are able to continue to try and get information from the Bedouins. Finally, the Bedouins and the trio are off to the place of the attack and the journey moves on. When a rockslide and attack from these same mysterious beasts separates the group, Adam, Ali, and Umar are on their own to make there way through the mountains and figure out the threat on their own without the Bedouins. They journey through a river within a mountain for days on end before meeting soldiers that take them back to their unnamed city. The city is the one from the dream. And as they must search to understand what plagues the inhabitants, how to defeat it, and how to survive, they suffer loses, confusion and only a few answers. They do save the city from the immediate threat, but not from a larger looming one.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The book reads really smooth, a lot of self published chapter books are all over the place, and this one, sticks to the story pretty well. There are a few tangents, such as the lion on the ship, that really have very little baring on the story, except to show maybe how good of an archer Ali is, however, most are mildly amusing and thus not terribly frustrating. There are a few smaller incidents that make the book a little less cohesive, for example a passage about a man named Tarek, who brings the Sultan a message and is rewarded with gold, or such detail about Umar not being allowed to go on the assignment and then the Sultan allowing him to go, perhaps it is to show the Sultan’s generosity and willingness to take other people’s opinions in to consideration, but they aren’t particularly smooth anecdotes to the book and read a bit unpolished. Often these little dives into side issues with fair amounts of detail made me think they would play a role later in the book, but by-and-large, they don’t. One that particularly stood out was Adam meeting the Chief’s daughter in the forbidden woods. I still really want to know why she and her children were there. I also wanted more information about the man-beast figures and the man and woman that were so quickly killed, and the markings on the trees and in the caves (trying not to spoil too much), in the climax.
I love that the book is Islamic fiction from top to bottom, there are lots of morals exposed and teachings mentioned in real tangible situations. The character’s pray and carry themselves at all times as Muslims and it is refreshing to read. Characters in the book take shahada based on the manners of the Muslim characters and the readers see and understand repeatedly the power actions and values have in defining a person. One of my favorite exchanges in the book is when Adam tells Ali, “The main reason for failure is manners. To be specific, lack of manners.” The details continue, and hopefully reinforce and articulate what parents everywhere are trying to teach their children.
The font and binding and all are adequate, I don’t love the cover though. It seems this is the second cover, and I wish it was more eye catching, it is really bland, and unfortunately won’t compel readers to pick it up. I also really wish their was a map.
There is violence, nothing sensationalized or celebrated and it even mentions how heavy hearted characters should be about going in to battle and taking a life.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I would love to do this as a middle school book club book. I’d love to hear how the students take the Sultan being referred to as Allah’s representative on Earth. I get Leader of the Believers, and even Caliph, but I felt this description to be a bit grandiose. I actually thought it was perhaps a Shia perspective, nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t something I’d ever heard before and yes I assumed, but the author said, “Of course not.“ He then said, “The Caliph must ensure that the laws of Allah, Most High, are present on Earth. Every Caliph represented the Creator ensuring Shariah was present, the same as every Prophet and Messenger.” Still not completely clear, I asked a trusted source (not Google) who said it comes from the Ummayads under Muawiyah. So, I’m not sure if anyone else would be hung-up on this, but it is something that stood out to me, although definitely not making the book something to avoid.
I think kids will have strong opinions on the mystery at hand being the book ends on a cliff hanger. With a lot of questions still up in the air and no real right or wrong answer, I think discussing the book would be a lot of fun.
The book’s website: https://www.thebrokenkingdom.com/