Stephen Goldin has managed to revive and revitalise an old, classical and largely overlooked branch of the art of storytelling. ‘Shrine of the Desert Mage’ is a gripping and quite endearing story in the mould of ‘The Arabian Nights’. Instead of a collection of disparate tales, however, this tells a single and gripping story of the beginnings of an epic change in the Cycles of the world.
Richly set within an imaginary middle-eastern country, the author introduces the reader to a tried and tested formula of good versus evil, one that can usually be relied upon to lends itself so well to an epic scale. ‘Shrine of the Desert Mage’ does not disappoint in this respect, but achieves it with a care and consideration only ever found in experienced, adept and accomplished authors.
This first volume of the ‘Parsina Saga’ introduces the world of Parsina, with its divine city of Ravan central to its politics, beliefs and ultimate fate. The tale begins with the individual stories of a number of disparate characters, from princes to thieves, with storytellers, magicians and elemental entities filling the space between. Each story, though, is a gripping and enchanting thread in itself, but Stephen Goldin consummately manages to interweave them to form a wonderful tapestry of a tale.
He does this with a sparing touch upon his characters, however. They at first appear mere ciphers, rather shallow and one-dimensional – in keeping with the fable nature of the work, it has to be said – but they do steadily grow a little deeper and richer. It would be fair to say that this is a story driven more by plot, setting and an exquisitely fashioned system of supreme powers and elemental magic than by the cast of characters involved. They do grow enough by the end of this volume, however, to engender some empathy. Enough to want to read the next volume from a feeling of involvement, and not just curiosity about where the story will lead.
This is clearly a very well researched work, but be prepared. It will introduce you to a whole raft of often unfamiliar names and terms. There are many exotically named items of clothing, furniture, architecture and the like. Although there’s a rich seam of this narrative colour, the author is careful in its use, always making it clear what is being referred to. It certainly improves the setting of, and background to the story, but may slow some readers down. This reader, though, was particularly taken by the clever geographical names used, each carefully evoking real places in our own history. By it, a more immediate sense of location was fostered, so much so that the tale seemed as though it could almost have been truly handed down from an ancient Persian or Indian hand.
In keeping with the subject matter and story, Stephen Goldin’s prose is quite ‘old style’, and it may take a little while for more modern readers to feel comfortable. It often uses now unfashionably long and sometimes convoluted sentences, but they’re almost always carried off by the high standard of writing. It does mean that a rich mine of delightful phrases and turns of language await the reader, such as: ‘half a feather’s weight from chaos’, and ‘The city’s original lustre wore thin, revealing the common clay beneath the glazed facade.’
I would certainly recommend the ‘Shrine of the Desert Mage’ by Stephen Goldin as an enjoyable and rewarding read; for its rich prose, clever and well-crafted story and its interesting and engaging re-telling of the age-old tale of good versus evil.
The Shrine of the Desert Mage has been approved for the Awesome Indies.