4 of 5 stars Read in June, 2015
Omari’s skills as a thief have allowed him to live a life of luxury. However, when it looks like his world is about to tumble down, he decides to take matters into his own hands – he sets his house on fire. Unfortunately, the fire spreads and soon the entire town is engulfed in flames. The survivors gather outside of town, wondering what is to become of them. Omari, in an attempt to avoid capture, hints that he knows of a land across the desert where they can make a much better life than the one they have lost. For the first time in his life, Omari finds himself leading a group of people who put all their faith and hope in him but can this unrepentant thief and loner change enough to really keep his promise – especially as he has never actually crossed the desert before and has no idea if this promised land actually exists?
Omari and the People by Stephen Whitfield is one entertaining realist fantasy – a completely engrossing sword & sorcery tale with very little of either. Not to say there isn’t some sword play and a bit of magic but the story is more character-driven which, with a less deft hand, could have made for a very dull tale. Fortunately, Omari and the people are all complex and interesting characters and the tensions and the relationships that arise throughout their long journey through the desert makes for some very addicting reading. The characters must rely more on themselves and each other to survive their very grueling trek rather than some outside supernatural force. Reminiscent of old folk tales like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, even the desert seems more a living, breathing and always unpredictable character than a place perhaps because it is responsible for so many of the struggles, disappointments and hopes but also perhaps because, as Whitfield says, he based it on the real Sahara desert.
Omari and the People is more than a simple quest story – it is a tale of love and struggle, of growth and courage and faith, and of the resilience of the human heart. But more than that, it is a really engrossing reality fantasy that will grab and keep the reader’s attention throughout.