Quite unusual, this book. Although written recently, it follows a much more old-fashioned (properly old-fashioned) style, more akin to Journey to the West than Best Served Cold.
The plot follows the street rat Zafir, who witnesses a murder and has to flee to a monastic sanctuary which, in time-honoured fashion, teaches him to be hard as nails. After this he works to strengthen the Empire so that it can resist the nefarious plotting of those who would seek to conquer it, battling numerous enemies and hatching a cunning plan to safeguard his home from invasion.
The world is not the standard European medieval(ish) fantasy setting, but more like the Middle East a thousand years ago (there’s an Emir and Caliph rather than Earl and Emperor). Magic abounds, as do magical creatures drawn from Eastern traditions and the odd god or two.
Although it’s a thousand miles from my typical fantasy fare (gritty, realistic and with almost half the cast ending up dead on average) I really rather liked it. The refreshingly different world has a similar air about it to Journey to the West and the writing style is easy to read.
The book adopts a more straightforward approach to morality than is currently the norm, but doesn’t stray into the exuberantly unconcerned bloodletting of Li Kui or Sagacious Lu [both of whom are tremendously violent chaps from Outlaws of the Marsh].
I particularly enjoyed the companion that Zafir acquires in the latter half of the book.
A potential pitfall isn’t with the book itself but with the fact that it is a break from the current fashion for morally grey stories with buckets of realism. It’s an unashamed adventure story, and an enjoyable one, but if someone were after the next Best Served Cold, this might not be for them. However, if they were willing to try a new take on an ancient style written in a modern way, The Master of Izindi is well worth a look.