The Vizier’s Second Daughter
by Robert F. Young
The back cover captures the book’s essence very well, so I’ll simply duplicate it here:
The sent him into the past to kidnap and bring back Sheherazade, the famous narrator of the Thousand and One Nights. But when he had grabbed a lovely lady out of the Sultan’s harem and scooted away on his “magic carpet” time machine he discovered that he had muffed it – for she was the Vizier’s second daughter – Sheherazade’s kid sister!
He thought he could rectify that mistake before going back to the 21st Century – but it was already too late. Because the ifrits were hot on his trail, Ali Baba had jumped aboard, and the enchanted Castle of Crass awaited his arrival with ghoulish glee.
It’s a wonderful romp through time and legend with the kid sister pulling marvels out of her hair faster than you could pull the cork on a djinn bottle!
I’m not entirely sure what to make of this book. I read it quickly. I had fun. Yet, the narrative doesn’t quite hang together as tightly as I’m accustomed, and the characters don’t seem to be quite as… vivid. Plot certainly comes first.
Though the copyright information doesn’t mention any kind of previous publishing, I wonder if the original manuscript was intended for a magazine serial. Each chapter is nearly the same length, and each chapter also proves to be fairly episodic. It doesn’t make for a bad story nor bad writing, but it does provide a different style of story than I was expecting.
The mash-up of Arabian Nights and sci-fi mostly worked for me. I enjoyed the mystery of what the ifrits really were, and Dunyzad (Sheherazade’s little sister) made a credible heroine. I loved how she simply accepted all the science-fiction trappings as “magic.”
The first half of the book in particular feels more like “two disparate characters explore an unknown world together.” Again, not a bad thing, but it wasn’t what I’d expected. The plot structure for each chapter works well, but it’s not exactly a cohesive whole. For instance, the climax of the book has high stakes and not a small amount of danger, and there is build-up to it, but it never feels like the climactic scene… at least it didn’t to me.
I do want to comment on the… uncomfortable love story. Dunyzad, the female lead, is fifteen throughout the bulk of the story. The main character, the kidnapper from the future, is an adult. While his age is never given outright, he’s definitely no teenager. And then… they start falling in love. No, nothing really gross happens, nor is suggested to happen. But it is just enough to make you go, “Um…” The middle of the book was… not exactly comfortable, but Young handles it well in the end. In fact, he uses a fun devise to make everything turn out.
On the other hand, I love this concept of what would happen if we commercialized time travel: Companies send agents back in time to kidnap very important past people for interviews and the like, and then return them to the past. It’s just fun. The opening chapter in particular revels in this anything-goes science fiction environment.
So definitely some ups and downs with this one. If you find it in a used book shop for a buck or two, it’s worth your money and the day or two it would take to read it. Creative and fun, but not exactly the best put-together plot.