April 13, 2006

Amateur Book Review: Prayers for the Assassin


The year is 2036, and the Islamic States of America, born from the shattered wreckage of the USA, and following a bitter civil war that settled nothing, is no longer the world’s leading superpower. It is a pale shadow of former greatness.

Okay, that’s either an intriguing look at a possible –if completely improbable- future, or the most ludicrous thing you’ve ever heard. If you believe the latter, then Robert Ferrigno’s Prayers for the Assassin is probably not for you. That would be too bad, since this book, beyond its fanciful premise, is an exciting and engrossing thriller. Assassin is brisk, slick and would make for terrific airplane reading.

For those who haven’t read the book, the question is obvious: How did this happen? More importantly, does it make any sense?

About as much as it possibly can, it does.

The housing market collapses, and propels the economy into a serious recession. Popular culture continues to grow more abrasive, and the moral certainty of Islam begins to make sense to many Americans. A few high-profile celebrities make very public declarations of their new faith. Then the unthinkable. It’s called the Zionist Betrayal; Israeli agents detonate nuclear weapons in Washington, New York and Mecca. This was an attempt by rouge Israeli agents to pin blame on radical Islamists. It backfires. Much of America converts, and an Arab and European force wipes Israel of the map. Christians unwilling to convert head to the Deep South, declare independence and a brutal civil war follows. Cities across the country are devastated, left uninhabitable. Eventually the war ceases without a victor, and the ISA and Bible Belt are left with a hard, edgy peace.

Our protagonist is Rakkim, recently retired from the Fedayeen, the ISA’s covert military wing. He’s an orphan, raised in the house of the fearsome Redbeard, head of State Security. Redbeard is a legendary figure in the Islamic States, a man who used any means necessary to protect the nascent country after the assassination of his older brother James, the first head of State Security. James became a great martyr, and his daughter Sarah was raised by Redbeard as well. Once out of their teens, Rakkim and Sarah become lovers and Redbeard refused to let them marry. Now she’s disappeared and Redbeard is desperate enough to find her he calls on Rakkim. Sarah hasn’t disappeared; she’s on the run.

Prayers for the Assassin hits the ground running and never lags. It’s a breezy read that seems shorter and quicker than 416 pages. Despite the showy premise, this is more a character driven book. The young lovers, Rakkim and Sarah, sometimes delve into caricature, but not often. Rakkim is hardened and agnostic, Sarah is naïve and idealistic, but Rakkim has moments of unexpected tenderness and Sarah has more steel than you might think. A thriller is only as good as the villains and Prayers is blessed with three. The young and fanatical Mullah, Ibn-Azziz, is the leader of the Black Robes, the religious secret police. The Old One, a shadowy figure who seems himself as the Mahdi, bent on creating the world caliphate. The Old One’s assassin, the nihilistic Darwin, is also ex-Fedayeen, and very much Rakkim’s twisted mirror image.

Ferrigno is also very adept at filling in the history of the ISA, and many of the smaller moments focus on the differences between the USA and ISA. Seattle is the capital of the ISA and Ferrigno, a Northwestener himself, uses the geography well. The Space Needle, toppled and rusting in the rain, is a recurring, mournful image. A pivotal scene takes place in the abandoned ruins of Disneyland. The ISA flag, a replica of the stars-n-stripes with the crescent moon replacing the stars, is a poignant presence throughout the book. That flag also makes for a striking cover image, though the effect is lessened by the huge logo. It’s a bizarre misstep for a well-marketed book. Does a picture of this flag really need the words “A Novel” front and center?

Again, overall enjoyment of the book will center on how much the reader can get lost in the alternative world Ferrigno conjures. Do that, and Prayers for the Assassin is a very enjoyable read.

Posted by Frinklin at April 13, 2006 10:32 PM | TrackBack

Does a picture of this flag really need the words “A Novel” front and center

I think H.L. Menkhen answered that one for us.
Thanks for a very perceptive review.
all best
Robert Ferrigno

Posted by: robert ferrigno at April 19, 2006 11:56 AM
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