In the end I decided this story needed fewer words, that it was meant to be a shorter, sharper, faster book. Like the scorpions of the title, it needed to dart and stab! As it is, it's more of a camel: useful, weirdly beautiful in the right light, but generally plodding. It gets there in the end, but the ride is uneven.
I think I may have already milked the camel metaphor desert-dry, but forgive me as I indulge one more time. Like a well-saddled camel, draped with beautifully dyed and embroidered blankets, THE SCORPIONS OF ZAHIR has splendid trappings. The book design, the font, the chapter headings, the illustrations are all wonderful. This is a beautiful book to look at, and such evident thought and care are to be applauded. Yet underneath the blankets, it's still a camel, and it still plods.
It's a shame really, because THE SCORPIONS OF ZAHIR had so much potential. Take the scorpions, which in the book range from miniscule to six-feet long (shudder). Scorpions are just plain terrifying, so they are an excellent, unusual choice of monstrous adversary, one well suited to the locale. They're also a superb, subtle symbol of the journey the main characters take, the conflict between moving forwards, and looking backwards. Uncovering history is risky business. The past sometimes ought to remain hidden.