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Secrets of the Sands (Children of the Desert) by Leona Wisoker
Cover Artist: Michael J. Sullivan
Review by Colleen Cahill
Mercury Retrograde Press Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780981988238
Date: 30 March 2010 List Price $18.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

A good book has a lot of elements to it, but if I like the characters, I will often overlook any flaws. When I started reading Leona Wisoker’s debut novel, Secrets of the Sands, I knew in the first 50 pages that I was going to love this book. Beginning with a street thief who’s botched pick pocketing could lead to either a better life or a hanging, I was soon introduced to a whole cast of intriguing people, all wrapped up in a fascinating story of two cultures and a deep mystery that effects all humanity.

Idisio has survived on the streets of Bright Bay through the madness of the late King whose overthrow six months before has brought some stability to the kingdom, though none are sure for how long. Times are still tough, which might explain why Idisio accidently tried to pick the pocket of a desert lord, a southern noble with uncanny powers. Lord Cafad Scratha sees something more in this event and practically kidnaps Idisio, eventually making the street thief his servant. This would be a step up for the Idisio except Scratha is being punished by King Oruen. Disguised as a wandering scholar, Scratha is tasked with gathering a history of the kingdom, a task that could take years. As his servant, Idisio is now along for the ride, but it is soon clear that Scratha has other agendas, many of which involve the mysterious desert to the south of Bright Bay.

There are repercussions for others when Scratha is sent wandering and perhaps none feel it more than Lady Alyea, a young noble woman of Oruen’s court. It is clear she is ambitious, but never expected to be filling in at Scratha’s desert fortress until he returns home. While raised with stories of the exotic desert culture, Alyea is not prepared for living there, so the King sends two natives of the area to escort and guide her. Her journey south introduces her to many wonders and many dangers, including the mysterious Deiq who seems overly interested in her and where she is going. This would be exciting, except Alyea becomes more and more uncertain of her supposed advisors, beginning to wonder who is really trustworthy. Could the King have set her up for a fall?

On the surface, one might think this was an average fantasy novel, with Kings and intrigue, plus a few desert lords thrown in for color. Not so! Wisoker has crafted a complex and compelling tale; her magic is definitely not wands and spells, more of the mind and body. While gods are mentioned, a race of non-humans seems to be the source of any uncanny power, and they also seem to have an agenda. Small things, like the desert culture’s beaded bracelets that puzzle Alyea add to the richness of this story and drew me in even more. It shows the author’s skill that even seemingly minor subplots, such as a pair of northern women tricked into slavery, are strands of a much bigger picture.

As I stated above, I was enchanted with the characters, from Idisio finding his feet as a servant to the cranky, crafty and sometimes clueless Scratha to Alyea, who at first seems a dilettante, but like many who lived through the mad King’s reign, has scars both physical and emotional. This book so captivated me that I have read it twice and expect to read it again before the next volume in the series comes out this Spring. Bravo for a winning new fantasy, one full of wonder and fun!

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