From School Library Journal
Grade 6–9—On a future Earth, the people's way of life and technology have been turned back in a Reversal, and the very geography of the planet has been rearranged. The Users, who one might assume are today's superpowers, caused much destruction and the Reversal centuries before, and their books hold all of their dangerous knowledge, the Lost Art. In order to prevent such a tragedy from recurring, the books have been hidden away in a remote Russian monastery. Now, they have been stolen. The monastery is destroyed, the monks slaughtered. Only Va, a former soldier and assassin and now-repentant monk, survives. He sets off on a mission to recover the volumes. Meanwhile, Benzamir Mahmood and his enemies, traitorous former friends whose ancestors had escaped the User's destruction centuries earlier, have returned to Earth. Benzamir is seeking the books and his enemies in order to prevent them from interfering with life on Earth. Ultimately, Va and Benzamir join forces. Along with their various traveling companions, they go to the African desert where a final confrontation between Benzamir and his enemies occurs. What starts off as a promising novel is, in the end, disappointing. The idea of the Reversal, the Users, and the changes to society where there are pale Ewer slaves and Middle Eastern and African countries appear to be dominant is interesting and another way to convey the dangers of modern technology and our world. Yet the overly long story tends to drag in places, and there are too many competing story lines and characters, making it difficult to connect or empathize with any of them.—Jennifer D. Montgomery, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green
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Centuries after the User culture destroyed civilization and altered planetary geography, the world has descended into a dark age devoid of science and technology. Books holding the past’s knowledge are secretly guarded in a remote Siberian monastery. After the monks are slaughtered and the books stolen, Va, the sole survivor and a great warrior turned zealot, vows to retrieve them. Across the world, Benzamir Michael Mahmood, a traveler from the stars, also seeks the books. Each man gathers confederates as he travels, and their two journeys converge at the heart of the Kenyan Empire, where hidden secrets unfold. The intriguing premise drives these alternating and uneven story lines. Mahmood is an engaging, humorous character, but the sections featuring the driven, egotistical Va are less interesting. The characters fit neatly into type: mad monk, courageous hero, faithful retainer, and a beautiful princess—who somehow remains staggeringly gorgeous even after camping outside a monastery for six bathless years. There aren’t any teen characters, but the secret-laden plot will keep readers turning pages to a satisfying conclusion. Grades 7-10. --Lynn Rutan