by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Review by Ernest Lilley
Spectra Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0553587439
Date: 01 March, 2005 List Price $12.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
First published in 2001 in the UK by Earthlight books, then again in 2003 by Pocket in the US, Pashazade begins the celebrated Arabesk trilogy which follows the adventures of a classically noir/cyberpunk misfit landed in the midst of an alien culture ? here the Twenty-first century Ottoman empire, courtesy of an alternate history in which the United States brokered a deal ending World War I, with the Ottoman Empire never falling as a result.
In the North African city of El Iskandryia, an alternate Alexandria, things are always hot, but for Ashraf al-Mansur , aka ZeeZee, a young man who has been floating around in various institutions all his life, first boarding schools, then a Chinese mob, then prison, things are about to get hotter yet. Sprung from a prison sentence in the US by virtue of his hereditary connections to the ruling class, a connection he was never very sure about, he?s suddenly a person of some importance in a city that blends Bogie?s Casablanca with Gibson?s Neo-Tokyo, and the action is delivered with terrific style by the author.
When Ashraf finds himself sprung from prison and thrust into wealth and privilege, he?s neither blas? nor indifferent to it, but he?s wary, quick witted, and certainly not ready to be responsible or loyal to anything outside himself. And he's not ready for an arranged marriage, especially to a willful El Iskandryian girl, just back from the US herself. "Hey. It should work out," figures her mob-connected father. They?ve both been corrupted by the same culture. Of course he?s right, but that doesn?t mean it will be easy to convince either of them. Besides, not only has he publicly shamed her by refusing to marry her outright, he?s her only hope if she wants to break free from the cultural prison she?s trapped in, or possibly, even if she just wants to survive in the deadly game unfolding around them.
Ashraf finds himself accused of the murder of his Aunt, among others. And the reputation he?s getting as a secret agent isn?t helping either. Not that he is a secret agent for anyone, but once people start wondering about you, your denial just feeds the rumor. And then there?s the matter of the intelligence grade AI that?s been stuck in his head since childhood, stuck in the guise of a fox, always ready to tell him whatever he needs to know to survive.
The fox has gotten old as Ashraf has matured, and now he only pops up occasionally. Ashraf may have outgrown his need for the mentor/advisor though, and what he needs to find out, who he is and what he wants, isn?t something that it could have told him anyway.
There are two other books in this series, which follow Ashraf?s evolution in this city of intrigue, and I highly recommend the entire trilogy.