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Pashazade Paperback – March 1, 2005

3.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Arabesk Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this clever first book of a trilogy that blends alternative SF and hard-boiled mystery from British author Grimwood (Lucifer's Dragon, etc.), ZeeZee, who has spent his youth largely in boarding schools and in trouble, is also Ashraf al-Mansur, though that identity is unknown to him. Whisked away from a Seattle prison, ZeeZee is transported to El Iskandryia, an exotic, exquisitely detailed North African city. Whether Ashraf or ZeeZee, he's adaptable but not compliant. The world of wealth and privilege he's expected to accept without question comes with strings he's not to question either, like marriage to the willful Zara. Misunderstanding and mishandling his precarious situation, Ashraf becomes prime suspect in a murder, on the lam with only a vague understanding of where he is and who he is supposed to be. He's not only responsible for his own fate but also, surprisingly, the sole protector of a young girl. Grimwood artfully unveils the changed world that has developed in the many decades since WWI ended differently. Ashraf, a lifelong underdog and pawn, emerges as a resourceful and deadly foe, adapting quickly to survive in a game where the rules and the playing field shift repeatedly. SF and mystery fans will be pleased.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“All brilliant light and scorching heat . . . Grimwood has successfully mingled fantasy with reality to make an unusual, believable, and absorbing mystery.” —Sunday Telegraph

“A mature balance between sensibility and action in what's essentially a rite of passage story allied with a detective thriller—deftly told and laced with neat ideas.” —Time Out

“Near perfect.” —Murder One

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Spectra (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553587439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553587432
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,792,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jon Courtenay Grimwood does do one thing very well: he does make you care for his characters.

But other than that, Pashazade's overly ambitious, impossibly complicated--it wants to be too many things: alt-history, cyberpunk, a whodunit, a hardboiled noir escapade, and a coming of age story.

Nobody could accomplish all that in 360 pages, and while Mr. Grimwood comes closer than you'd ever expect, he doesn't entirely succeed.

The alt-hist (the Ottoman Empire survived into the 21st century) is just laid out, and not developed at all (the book could have been set in Alexandria 20 years from now and it wouldn't have made much difference); the cyberpunk is faux Gibson, right down to the product placements (and it's amazing how many of the products are the same in this world, despite the radical changes a brokered WWI, leaving the Kaiser and the Austro-Hungarian intact, would have been); there aren't enough good clues for a good whodunit, so in the end the mystery is solved because the author says it is, not on account of any internal logic; the noir is acceptable, but no more (i.e., about what you'd expect); and the coming of age might have been handled better if the book weren't so danged flashbacky (one of the flashbacks, which ought to have been the book's prologue) actually interrupts the grand finale.

Still in all, the book never bores; it just frustrates.
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Format: Paperback
Abetted by his Aunt Nafisa, who he never knew existed, Ashraf el-Mansur comes to the Mediterranean port city of El Iskandryia having escaped from an American prison. Lady Nafisa explains to her nephew that her brother married American Sally Welham and though divorced five days later, he is a legitimate offspring of an Emir.

Aunt Nafisa introduces Ashraf to her niece nine year old Hani and his future wife Zara daughter of wealth; both hate him because the fuss made over him interferes with their respective lives. However, before his aunt can complete arrangements for his entrance into the elite of Ottoman society, she is killed. As a newcomer and the sole heir to her fortune, the police suspect Ashraf murdered his aunt. Based on his American experience with Chinese employers, Ashraf knows he must prove his innocence or be railroaded into prison or worse. His only help comes from two females who loath him.

PASHAZADE is a fabulous futuristic amateur sleuth tale built on an alternate historical foundation to include Germany winning World War I and the Ottoman Empire thriving in the early twenty-first century. The who-done-it is cleverly handled so that mystery buffs have a solid investigative tale with some intriguing police procedural elements. The cast is terrific. Ashraf also known as ZeeZee struggles with what he has learned about his patriarchal ancestry (his mother could not provide two consistent responses as her version of the truth kept wavering) and with his aunt's death. Hani and Zara add depth to Ashraf's character. However, the star is the city of El Iskandryia where fundamentalist Islamic and western hedonists share a troubled past and shop at Wal-Mart.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Paperback
First of all, if anyone thinks setting a cyberpunk/noir in the Arab/Islamic world is a brand new idea, I would refer them to the late George Alex Effinger's '80s Marid Audran series (When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss) and short story collection (Budayeen Nights). That series featured a down and out 22nd-century Arab gumshoe in grimy Cairo who is unexpectedly elevated into a powerful position and makes heavy use of brain implants in order to track down a few murderers, exact vengeance, and try and figure out just who his parents actually were. Hmmm... sounds an awful lot like this book, doesn't it?

Grimwood's story is a fairly off-the-rack "reluctant hero" tale about Ashraf, a small time hoodlum unexpectedly sprung from jail in the U.S. and brought to Alexandria/Iskandriya by an aunt he didn't know he had. Apparently he's the son of the Bey of Tunis, and therefore a very important young man with carte blanche and legal immunity to almost anything. However, it's clear that he's also got all kinds of genetic modifications, the source of which is left deliberately murky. He's also got some kind of invisible advisor fox (in D&D days, we would have called it a familiar), and a whole host of issues. Soon after his arrival in "Isk", his aunt is killed and the police seem to think he did it. So naturally, he must carry out his own investigation in order to clear his name -- with the help of a ponytailed ex-American Chief of Police. At the same time, Ashraf's past -- from lonely boarding school upbringing, to working for Seattle Chinese gangster Mu San -- is measured out in italicized flashbacks.

Actually, the entire first third of the book is rather confusingly arranged, with chapters in reverse chronological sequence and shifting points of view.
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Format: Paperback
Pashazade has been on my in-pile for a good year and a half. I've picked it up a dozen times, read the first page repeatedly, but never launched into it. Now the time was right, and after a good start Thursday night, spent all afternoon baking in the sun and devouring this dense, lyrical, intricate and most unusual book.

Pashazade is nominally sf - it's set in an alternate universe in 2106 or so, one in which President Wilson, rather than intervening in World War I, negotiated a settlement that left the old empires intact. The setting, al-Iskandriah under 21st Century Ottoman rule, is the star of the book as Los Angeles in the 40s starred in classic noir.

And sun-baked, redolent, languid noir it is. Pashazade reminded me of a blend of first-season Veronica Mars and Chinatown - the hero with a personal stake in a killing rooted in local politics, intrigue and corruption. Add a post-cyberpunk, quite broken reluctant hero, an utterly annoyance-free precocious kid and a lovely billionaire's daughter, and you've got ultramodern noir at its finest.

But more than just a fine example of a genre updated - I've fallen in love with al-Iskanriah in a way I have with very, very few story settings: the Rome of the early Falco novels, the city of Amber, the Federation, the beach in front of Troy - it's a very short list of places for a lifetime of reading. Al-Iskandriah is that vivid, that intriguing, that layered and nuanced and real.

And Grimwood can turn a phrase, too - there are a lot of subtle gems of prose, nothing too garish for someone who does *not* like an obtrusive or mannered style.

At last year's ComiCon, I was given an Advance Reading Copy of the sequel, Effendi. I'm headed back to the Ottoman Empire's greatest free port...
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