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Jon Courtenay-Grimwood - FelaheenFelaheen is the 3rd (and final) book in Jon Courtenay-Grimwood's Arabesk sequence (after Pashazade and Effendi) – it was, at the time, Jon's 7th book, meanwhile he has 13 Novels to his name. Felaheen won the BSFA Award for Best Novel (he's won another BSFA Award since for End Of The World Blues).

The final instalment of this series finds Ashraf 'Raf' al-Mansur contacted by the chief bodyguard of his supposed (he doesn't believe it) father, the Emir of Tunis, asking for help following a nearly successful assassination attempt using a venomous snake. The main thing she can offer in exchange for his services (she tries to hire him) is information – she knew his mother, and might well know the secrets surrounding Raf's origin and birth. Nevertheless he turns her down, and instead starts his own investigations into his past.

I'm not going to spill more of the story – the entire book is a trip down memory lane – both figuratively in Raf's aimless search for his past, and literally in flashbacks telling brief episodes from the life history of Sally, Raf's mother; a small-time criminal and major anti-corporate activist involved in 'direct action'.
The two threads kind of wind around and feed of each other, but only really come together towards the end. And even then you'll need your brain to connect some of the dots...

Jon does his typical thing of proving the reader with bits and bobs, fragments of information, and letting him assemble the larger picture from these hints and pieces. And most readers, like me, will most likely assemble them wrongly for quite a while.
I'm not sure if I was more appreciative of the clever writing, or more annoyed with being led down the wrong path for a good part of the book.
The backstory is reasonably clever, and whilst is is revealed bit by bit it is never really explained. In my opinion it takes quite careful re-reading and taking notes to really get you there (and I hope I got the right outline in the end...). Maybe it's just a tad too clever, the actual backstory a tad too well hidden? Having a bit more guidance might have given the story some more drive, direction, backbone, which it is lacking in parts.

Raf still does his super-street-fighter, infallible chancer trick that he's been at for the entire series. Hani calls it 'baraka' – the sanctity that clings to those who walk the difficult path. I found this a rather apt description of Raf and his choices, and his kind-of super powers and his preternatural ability to fall and land on his feet.

Overall this is an enjoyable books with a few weaknesses (see above) – it could well be read on its own, the author provides much background and previous history skilfully wrapped into the story.
Although, having said that, I'd very much recommend that you read the first two books first nevertheless – the entire series is rather good, in my opinion!

More Jon Courtenay-Grimwood


Title: Felaheen
Series: Arabesk
Series Number: 3/3
Author: Jon Courtenay-Grimwood
Reviewer: Markus Thierstein
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Earthlight
Publisher URL: http://www.earthlight.co.uk
Publication Date: 2003
Review Date: 111120
ISBN: 0743461177
Price: UKP 12.99
Pages: 356
Format: Hardback
Topic: SF
Topic: Alternate History

 

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