Top critical review
Slightly Less Fun than the first
on December 21, 2001
This sequel to When Gravity Fails finds former lowlife gumshoe Marid Audran suddenly becoming the right-hand man of futuristic Cairo's godfather, Friedlander Bey. Marid's transition from near-destitute scum to wealthy and powerful is more than a little awkward for him, since he had always prided himself on his independence. It's also somewhat awkward for the reader, since after a while, it gets old watching him get treated like a marionette. Friedlander Bey reorders Marid's world to separate him from his former friends and life by placing him on the police force, giving him his friend's bar, and giving him a Christian slave. Of course, you can't really refuse gifts from Friedlander Bey, so Marid toils at his job investigating various intrigues against his master. Thus, even more so than in the first book, he's the reluctant hero with a conscience of sorts.
The story starts with Marid in Algiers, searching for his mother and his roots. It doesn't quite work out as well as expected, and soon he's back in Cairo under the thumb of Friedlander Bey, working for the police, running around trying to figure out who's murdering little children and prostitutes. The killings may or may not be linked to Abu Adil, a rival to Friedlander Bey, but Marid doesn't really get going until an obviously corrupt officer keeps thwarting him and his reluctant partner gets killed. This element gets a little hokey, as his relationship with the partner goes through all the phases familiar to us from buddy-cop movies. The action gets a little convoluted as Marid bounces around, and the setting's novelty isn't as compelling as in the first book. Still, it's an interesting mix of Chandler and Dick, and if you like it, you should definitely check out Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music. Followed by The Exile Kiss.