Fantasy novels often seem to take place in a vaguely ancient British or Irish world, especially when the story involves fairies, elves or other magical creatures. Greek mythology has also had a certain popularity, but author Jasmine Richards breaks new ground for young readers by giving her debut novel, The Book of Wonders, a Middle Eastern flavor. She even includes Sinbad the Sailor as a somewhat major character, further enhancing the Arabian setting, and rewarding the reader with a refreshing new world to explore.
Zardi longs to leave her restrictive life as a girl from a good home in Arribitha. Her ambition is to sail and have wonderful adventures, like Sinbad on his ship, the Falcon. She is even more intrigued when her best friend Rhidan discovers that Sinbad may be able to tell him why he was orphaned and where he came from. But the event that spurs Zardi and Rhidan to action is the kidnapping of her father and sister by the evil Sultan Shahry?r. Now they must find Sinbad—and some answers—in order to free Zardi’s family.
Richards weaves in enough sorcery, djinnis (genies) and danger to keep any middle grade reader entranced. There are familiar scenes—like finding a djinni inside a lamp—and new creatures like the Queen of the Serpents and the giant brass horseman. While the main story line is resolved, others arise, assuring a sequel to come for this well-paced adventure.