The Crystal Desert, by Julia Gray

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Summary: (Taken from Terrel’s destiny is far from clear. In exile from his home, he journeys through a hostile world, with only the spirits from an earlier life and his instincts to guide him. Having crossed two oceans, Terrel finds himself in Misrah. A harsh and barren desert land, survival there is a daily struggle for its nomadic tribes. But Misrah is also a place of many wonders, where superstition is as important as the constant search for water. For Terrel, his magical talents may be all that can save him—and lead him one step closer to discovering the truth of the mysterious prophecies in the Tindaya Code.

Thoughts: I’ve always thought that Julia Gray’s greatest strength in writing is her skill with worldbuilding, and it’s very much evident in this book. Here we have Terrel seeing a land and people unlike any he’s ever known, a desert-dwelling nomadic tribe. If the people he met in the previous book were strange to him, well, they have nothing on the people of Misrah. The culture was obviously heavily inspired by traditional Arabic peoples, though artistic license was obviously taken.

The greatest detriment to this novel is that its story is much the same as in the previous two books, and the same as what shall be found in the following two also. Terrel meets new and strange people, talks to ghosts, finds out about the Ancient living in that area, and crontrives a way to get to it, talk to it, and save people from the negative effects it’s causing. It starts to read much like a kid’s TV show, only one where the villian of the week is pretty much the same as the villain of last week.

But here’s the thing: the world the author builds is such an interesting one that just finding out more about the cultures and the land and events is what keeps you pushing past the rehashed plot, keeps you turning pages, and keeps you interested. Little by little, more revelations are made, more speculations are tossed around, and in spite of a bit of predictability in places, some of the conclusions that characters reach are pretty original.

This may not be the absolute best of high fantasy. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable to read. I’ve loved this series ever since I first found it in the library five years ago, and it hasn’t suffered for being reread. I like to think that’s the mark of a good book. If you don’t mind rereading it even when you know everything that’s going to happen, then there’s got to be something good to say about the book, whether it’s the writing, the worldbuilding, the plot, anything. But there’s something, and that makes a lot of difference when compared to some books that are on the market.

This is my favourite book of the series, and in no small way because I have a fondness for nomadic desert tribes. Julia Gray gives me what I want to read, makes it entertaining, and leaves me wanting more.

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