Read Guardians of the Desert by Leona Wisoker
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you might remember that about a year ago, I reviewed Leona Wisoker’s Secrets of the Sands. The same disclosures apply: the author is a friend of mine, and I have a soft spot for quality small presses that take a risk on innovative new writing. Finally, Guardians of the Desert if a sequel to Leona’s earlier book, so you’ll want to read Secrets of the Sands first. Okay, that’s out of the way. Back to your regularly scheduled review.
What I liked about Secrets of the Sands was that, in the increasingly crowded fantasy bookshelves, Secrets of the Sands actually felt fresh and original. Leona created a desert society that was harsh, vivid, and believable—without reminding me of, say, Dune or The 1001 Arabian Nights. More, her characters were vivid and memorable. I was eager to turn the page to see what happened to them, sure. But I was more intrigued to see how the events would shape and change them, and the budding relationships growing between them.
The sequel, Guardians of the Desert, actually expands on the earlier book’s strengths—the world is deeper and more complex and the characters have grown. Leona’s sense of pace hasn’t dulled, and the mental pictures conjured by her spare but elegant prose and much more vivid. Her subtle, wicked wit is still apparent—and still luring to catch the reader unaware.
Guardians of the Desert picks up almost right where the last book ended—and Leona is clever enough to refresh the memory subtly without a cumbersome “what has gone before” recap—a skill I envy. While the first book was focused on three lead characters, the sequel focuses almost exclusively on one: Alyea, the new-made Desert Lord. Her journey to understand her role in a complex and dangerous society, and in the events that threaten to shake them to the core, is a fascinating one. The other characters are present enough not to be missed, at least not sorely, but the tighter focus makes Guardians of the Desert even more gripping that its predecessor.
Nonetheless, Guardians of the Desert feels more or less like its own novel, and not merely like the second half or the middle third of a larger story. Sure, it builds upon and expands what has gone before, but it stands neatly on it’s own (although again, this is not the place to start), both plot-wise and thematically. Too many “series” books feel like fragments or bloated chapters. Guardians of the Desert is a book, and a darn satisfying one, even while it’s a part of a larger whole. Fair warning though: it does end with a fairly large “to be continued.”
It’s refreshing to see a sequel that not only lives up to the promise of a bright debut, but actually surpasses it. This is a more mature book, and I am eager to see what the future brings, for the series, sure, but more for the author herself. Small press books can be hard to find, and often don’t get the attention they deserve. Often, though, they produce gems that are well worth the effort to seek out. This is one of them. if you enjoy a good fantasy with a complex and interesting world, compelling characters, and elegant prose, I hope you’ll take a chance on it.
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