Blurb: The village magician, Wafai, has gone missing. His star pupil Faizah thinks he has left a clue for her on a page of the Magicalis Bestialis. With the page open and marked with an X, she believes Wafai is telling them to seek out the Simurgh, the mythical birds who possess all the knowledge of the universe. She convinces her three classmates that they must seek the help of the Simurgh to find their teacher.
She leads the boys on a difficult journey into the mountains in search of the elusive birds. A strange little man becomes their guide. However, they do not know he is a spirit leading them toward a battle between good and evil. Spirits, gods, and demons confront the four friends, who are being set up by the otherworldly forces for a much larger task than finding their teacher. The students were chosen to take sides in the battle which might spell the end of the world: a battle between the demons and the spirits.
Disclaimer: As with most of the books I review, I know the author somewhat on social media.
Quest For the Simurgh is the first volume of Marva Dasef’s YA fantasy series Faizah’s Destiny, in which we are introduced to Faizah and other characters. Faizah is a plucky, spunky heroine introducing a bit of feminist precociousness into a primitive world where it’s not particularly welcome, a not uncommon element in YA fantasy. She’s the daughter of a family that eventually intends to marry her off to someone boring, but in this story she breaks her family ties almost inadvertently and without actually recognizing the deed.
The goal of finding the mysterious Simurgh arises when Faizah and her friend discover their teacher’s disordered house and evidence of his abduction, and an apparent note in one of his books that they interpret as a message from him to seek the Simurgh in order to find the missing Wafai. The kids fall for it, despite holes in their reasoning one could drive a camel caravan through, and a series of arrangements and manipulations follows that lets each of the four escape their families and embark on the quest.
They’re being manipulated themselves, though, and end up caught in a struggle between War and Peace (not exactly Good and Evil as the blurb suggests, but close enough), with the gods maneuvering them into taking sides. The original problems are ultimately resolved, but not before the protagonists wind their way through the divine squaring off.
This book is quite well written, and the quality of the writing drew me in immediately. The characters are also nicely drawn, particularly Faizah herself, who is engaging and easy to identify with. On the basis of superior characterization and writing, Quest For the Simurgh merits four stars.
The one area where I felt it could use improvement is in the plot and story line, which was a bit difficult to follow at times and on occasion broke immersion for me. The protagonists were led on a snipe hunt, essentially, with the gods and the guide they encountered on the road leading them in a completely different direction than they originally intended. That’s not a problem in itself, but there were occasions when any character as intelligent as Faizah should have stopped to say, “Wait a minute. Why are we going this way? We should be going that way instead. What are you up to?” I felt this could have been better constructed so as to give the journey greater verisimilitude and make the fast one pulled by the gods and spirits a bit more believable.
Aside from that, this is a good read for young readers, and the stage is set for sequels, which apparently are in the works. I’ll add that the technical quality is quite high. The book is well edited, the cover is nice, and the blurb succinct and catching. Always nice to see an indie author who does that sort of thing right.
Quest For the Simurgh is available for $2.99 from Amazon Kindle Store and also available in print for $6.99.