~by Barry Hoffman
Curse of the Shamra is the first book in The Shamra Chronicles by Barry Hoffman. I am not particularly familiar with Hoffman's previous work (he has been nominated for several World Fantasy Awards and Bram Stoker Awards, even taking home one), but I am under the impression that Curse of the Shamra, as a young adult novel, is a change of pace for him. Although the book is aimed at young adults, but even younger readers will probably enjoy the story as well. I was offered a copy to review, which I happily accepted.
The Shamra live an idyllic life. Their homeland is peaceful and safe, everyone helps one another, celebrations are frequent and food is abundant. Most Shamra are generally happy with their lot--but Dara isn't like most Shamra. Instead of being a quiet and obedient (as female Shamra should be), she is outspoken and willful, pushing the boundaries of what is socially acceptable and frustrating the elders and religious leaders immensely. But when the Shamra's home is invaded and its people enslaved, Dara may be the only one who can save them, female or not. In her dangerous quest she will travel to strange and distant lands, populated with even stranger creatures. Her only hope is that she can find help and return in time.
Curse of the Shamra is labeled as being for young adults, but specifically I think that those in the middle grades will appreciate it the most. It would also make for a good read-aloud book for even younger readers who might not be quite ready to tackle a several hundred page story on their own yet. Adult readers probably won't find the book as engaging, but it is still a nice adventure story with some rather creative bits to it. The writing style is simple enough and not terribly complicated, which is appropriate for the audience it is written for, although a few of the word choices could have been better. For example, "robot" was used as a point of comparison. While this gets the description across quite well, it threw me out of the story and world since robots aren't really a part of it.
I enjoyed the latter part of the book, when Dara leaves on her journey, more than I did the beginning. The ending chapters were particularly satisfying and I liked them very much. The epilogue tacked onto the end serves mostly as a hook for the next book, and probably wasn't entirely necessary--if it wasn't' for that and some foreshadowing, Curse of the Shamra stands pretty well on its own. It's a nice story with good characters that actually change and grow overtime. Dara and Tyler made the strongest and most complete characters, but I found Heber to be the most interesting. Most of the story is told from Dara's perspective, but occasionally other characters take the foreground. I enjoyed Curse of the Shamra well enough, but I probably won't be pursuing the following books for myself. Though I wasn't personally taken with Curse of the Shamra, I do know several people for which the book is right up their alley--my youngest sister, for one, will probably be inheriting a copy.