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Secret of the Sands
Leona Wisoker
Mercury Retrograde Press, 416 pages

Secret of the Sands
Leona Wisoker
Leona Wisoker got her start as a writer when she was eight, with a story about all the vacuum cleaners in the world breaking down at the same time. Ever since then she has successfully used the excuse of writing to avoid housework, even going so far as writing poetry when nothing else will save her from chores. Her short stories have appeared in Futures: Fire to Fly and Anotherrealm; she is a regular reviewer for Green Man Review and Fantasy Magazine. She currently lives in Virginia with an extraordinarily patient husband and two large dogs.

Leona Wisoker Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Dominic Cilli

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Leona Wisoker's first novel Secret of the Sands is a refreshing piece of fantasy literature and quite an impressive debut. It's the first installment in a planned three book series that will be known as The Children of the Desert. Secrets of the Sands does a fine job of laying the groundwork for what could be one highly-entertaining and fun series of books. It's not quite like anything I have ever read in this genre and I think most readers will agree in this day and age that fact alone should pique your interest enough to pick up a copy of Secret of the Sands and give it a try, not to mention the fact that it is well written, intriguing and imaginative.

Secrets of the Sands is an extremely intricate novel and tells a complex tale set in a desert society that is presided over by a king, yet ruled by Desert Lords and the mysterious ha'rethe. It's told through two alternating storylines. The first is the story of Idisio, a common street thief who accidently picks the pocket of Cadaf Scratha, a desert lord, and ends up embroiled in the political machinations of the king and the desert families. The second is the story of Lady Alyea, one-time lover and trusted friend and advisor to the king, who is asked to travel deep into the desert to preside over the lands of Cadaf Scratha while he completes a mission for the king. Of course, this is an extreme oversimplification of the plot as there is a lot more going on in Secrets of the Sands, but those of you who know the reviewers at SF Site, know our reviews aren't going to be 1000 word plot recaps or contain any spoilers. There are other places on the internet you can go if you want to read plot summaries.

It was clear to me from the start that Secrets of the Sands was not a project the author or the publishing house undertook lightly. One look at the nicely drawn map in the preface or a quick glance at the nearly 38 pages of appendixes will tell you that. Readers will soon find themselves pouring over the appendixes while reading Secrets of the Sands. As the story unfolds, you'll find yourself wanting and needing to go through them and learn more about the desert lords and their lineage in order to get a better understanding of this rather complicated society. Furthermore, Wisoker has created for Children of the Desert mythology, creatures, rules of language and hereditary concepts, all the trappings of a sound foundation on which an author can build on. The entirety of the novel has a decidedly middle-eastern feel to it, which is why I think it will seem so familiar to some. For instance, most of the language and terms are all done with a very middle-eastern type sound and feel (See Wisoker's pronunciation guide in the appendixes. Yes, she has created a pronunciation guide!). For example, characters in the book will use the prefix S'a to refer to the feminine while S'e refers to the masculine. If they couple this with another term such as Nethan, you have S'a Nethan or grandmother while S'e Nethan gives you grandfather. If it sounds complicated, it's really not, but it does take some getting used to. The reason I included the above example is to give you an idea the kind of detail and care that went into this novel, not to dissuade you from reading it. I found that, when you take all these little nuances Wisoker has created and put them together, it adds up to quite a bit in the end. The final product put me in awe of where the world-building skills of Wisoker are at this early stage of her career, easily surpassing some of the established names in fantasy. (I won't mention any names here but the world building was reminiscent of something out of an Ursula K. Le Guin novel in detail and complexity.) Wisoker, like the best authors of this genre, has created a completely original society upon which to tell her story. In fact, I have never read any kind of novel ith a setting seemingly as familiar as this, but was actually entirely unique, a trademark of all first-rate speculative fiction.

Secrets of the Sands is the second of three debut novels I will be reviewing during the first half of this year. As I have stated in a previous reviews, I will almost never pick up any book, let alone an author's first effort, unless I have read or heard good things from someone I know and respect. Hopefully, myself and my fellow editors at SF Site have become that trusted source for many readers of this wonderful genre. If you do trust us, do not shy away from reading Secrets of the Sands. It is a wonderful, extremely well-thought out piece of fiction and full of richness and depth and I feel fans of fantasy and speculative fiction will find it to be a breath of fresh air in a rather stuffy marketplace.

Copyright © 2010 Dominic Cilli

When asked to write a third-person tag line for his reviews, Dominic Cilli farmed the work out to an actual 3rd person, his friend Neal, who in turn turned it over to a second person who then asked his third cousin to help out and this person whom Dom doesn't even know then wrote in 8th person Omniscient mode "Dom's breadth of knowledge in literature runs the gamut and is certainly not bounded by the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. One thing I can say with certainty is that of all the people I don't know who've ever recommended books to read, Dom's recommendations are the best.


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