Sunday, January 18, 2015

Review: Sinai Tapestry

Sinai Tapestry
by Edward Whittemore

Format: Paperback, 310 pages
Publisher: Old Earth Books
Cover Art: Julie Burris
Release Date: December 28, 2002 (reprint of 1977)
ISBN-10: 1-882968220

"In the early nineteenth century, Skanderberg Wallenstein, a fanatical Albanian monk and linguist, unearths in a monastery in Jerusalem the oldest Bible in the world and discovers that it denies every religious truth ever held by anyone. Fearful of the consequences of its dissemination, Wallenstein forges an original Bible that will justify faith and buries the real Sinai Bible in Jerusalem. His actions set into motion a bawdy, brilliant, and undeniably epic adventure that spans a century and entwines the destinies of four extraordinary men in the shifting sands of the Holy Land: Plantagenet Strongbow, an English-born adventurer who becomes a Muslim holy man and finally, on the eve of World War 1, the secret ruler of the Ottoman Empire; his son Stern, a visionary who dedicates his life to establishing an inclusive homeland in the Middle East for Jews, Muslims, and Christians; Haj Harun, a 3000-year-old warrior and antiquities dealer; and O'Sullivan Beare, an exiled Irish freedom fighter and gunrunner."

I'm going to be upfront and say that will impossible for me to be objective about this book.  This is only the second book I have read that I knew I would love from the very first page to the last, the other being The Shadow of the Wind and recommended by a dear friend.  It will also be impossible to write a review that will do this book justice, but I will try.

Sinai Tapestry is the first book in the Jerusalem Quartet, a series written over a decade in the late '70s and '80s.  The series garnered much critical acclaim, but little publishing success, which is a shame because I think this is one of the best books I have ever read.  I would like to say the same about the rest of the series, but I haven't read them yet though I definitely will.

The book covers a lot of ground in both location and time from 19th Century England to Africa, to Germany and the Balkans, to various points around the Mediterranean and Middle East, but always coming back to Jerusalem, and finally to the eve of World War II.  It is an amazing piece of speculative fiction, combining elements of fantasy, history both real and imagined, literature, and just a hint of spy thrillers to truly transcend all the genres.  Whittemore is a masterful storyteller, putting all these pieces together with eye-twinkling humor on every page, but turning to the dark and serious in the blink of an eye. 

If this book has any failing at all it is that it may become a bit incomprehensible by the end.  Actually, that's not quite right.  The plot itself becomes more straightforward, but the reader is perhaps not quite sure of how it all hangs together.  But then again, this novel is titled a "tapestry" after all and there are still three more books to go. 

Sinai Tapestry is a seminal, superlative work of speculative fiction and one that everyone must read.  I'm giving this book the highest possible recommendation.

Rating: 9.5/10.

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