The young falconer Zerai thought he was a long-lost prince. He thought he would be granted supernatural powers to slay an army of demons. He thought he would reclaim his grandfather's empire. He thought wrong.
After years of living in the wilderness with other orphans, hiding from killer mercenaries and monsters, Zerai has lost all of his friends, leaving him alone on a quest to save his country. But even after he joins a company of legendary warriors and seers from the east, his chances of success seem bleak against the vast southern armies, packs of bloodthirsty ghuls, and huge fiery ifrits that have claimed his homeland.
As they journey through towering forests, vast savannas, and the mountains of the mysterious djinn, Zerai learns that he is not the great hero he had hoped to become. Instead he finds love in the arms of a young warrior woman struggling to accept that she may soon die. And with a humble heart, he arrives at a cursed city shrouded in darkness, where a witch queen has found immortality in the corpse of a fallen angel.
Drawn from elements of African history and mythology and inspired in part by the Arabian Nights, the epic fantasy series ANGELS AND DJINN takes readers to a dark world with heroes and lovers who are all too human, confronted with the fantastical and horrific creatures of a supernatural realm drawn from the strangest of dreams and worst of nightmares.
Joe and I have been working together for years, and with his rich, colourful stories, it's always a pleasure to have him along. Raziel's Shadow is one of his best: insightful, human, exciting and deliciously dark. – Charlotte E. English
"My favorite book by Joseph Robert Lewis so far! An epic adventure in an entirely new world. The characters were easy to relate to and well developed. Every chapter was chock full of dangerous monsters, magical creatures, near death dilemmas, and heroic solutions!"– Jay Morse
"I picked this book and once I started reading I was hooked. I loved the story line, the characters were great. Zerai, Kiya,Veneka were so real. I loved that Zerai was a Faulkner, Kiya and Ras Meron were cleric warriors. I can't wait for the next book. A book well written Joseph Robert Lewis!"– William A. Rayner Jr
"Adventure. Fighting. Incredibly witty dialogue. All things I've come to expect from Joseph Robert Lewis. And he doesn't disappoint his fans in Raziel's Shadow. If you like adventure or fantasy, this is your book."– Nikki
"I loved, loved, LOVED this book. The characters were very developed and you get drawn into the story from page one. If you like a story to take you on a roller coaster ride this is definitely for you. The author did such a great job with details that you felt you were watching a movie - not reading a book."– Melissa Pollard
Zerai felt the sand under his fingertips and realized that he was still quite painfully alive.
He pushed himself up to his feet and the warm brine clung to his clothes as though the sea hoped to drag him back beneath the waves, but he straightened his back and let the water pour off his head and shoulders. The midday sun beat down on his face and he narrowed his eyes. His empty stomach constricted and he grimaced.
Dragging his waterlogged boots, Zerai climbed the shallow incline of the beach until he stood on dry ground high above the tide line where he paused to let a wave of dizziness pass over him. Blinking, he glanced to his right and saw a handful of older men sitting on the rocks, fishing. They stared back at him. One of the fishermen raised a hand in greeting. Zerai looked to his left and saw a canal carrying the foaming waves inland through the low dunes, bearing sleek xebecs and massive barges in and out of a dark tunnel that led under the red cliffs. A sailor on a passing boat raised his hand in greeting.
Friendly people, aren't they?
Zerai staggered up the blinding white sand. With his left hand he grasped the handle of his sword. The sand on his palm ground against the grip. The falconer's glove on his right hand felt stiff and old from its drenching in the sea, and he tightened his fist inside it to make the rough leather claw at his skin.
I'm here, I'm really here. I made it, but Nahom…
He paused and looked back over his shoulder at the sparkling expanse of the Sapphire Sea, so bright and pale beneath a sky bleached white by the blazing sun. On either side of the beach stood the bloody cliffs of Imaya, tall and straight, and pitted with countless holes and crevices where small gray gulls kept their nests beneath the hungry eyes of the sea eagles. Of his homeland beyond the water, he saw nothing but a thin black line curving across the edge of the world.
Nothing else floated on the tide or lay upon the sand. No remnant of the raft, no scrap of clothing. Nothing at all. A familiar ache rose in his throat and his lips tightened just a little, but he had no tears and no words. Turning back again, he resumed walking up the beach and focused on the massive wall before him.
The wall rose impossibly straight and impossibly flat, displaying not even the faintest crack or seam, so that he could not begin to guess what skill or art had created it. The white wall extended from one side of the red cliffs to the other, and in its center stood a single arched gateway. A broad stone road led from the landing at the canal up to the entrance where a pair of iron gates stood open. Red and gold paint adorned the gates in interlocking patterns of slender rectangles and delicate rings.
The gates of Shivala. How many legendary battles were fought here? All the heroes, all the songs… How many great stories began and ended here at these gates? But today, it looks like any other doorway.
Zerai stepped off the burning sand and stood on the stone walkway before the open gates. Four soldiers in red robes bearing white steel spears and short swords stood in the shade to one side, watching him. He nodded to them, and they nodded back, and he proceeded into the city.
Beyond the red gates, Zerai emerged onto a broad boulevard lined with single-story stone buildings, which he assumed to be barracks and storehouses for the defense of the gates. Farther on, he arrived at the first intersection where he saw small children chasing after a pair of puppies through the streets. They ran by without sparing him a glance.
On throbbing feet and aching bones, Zerai trudged deeper and deeper into the city of Shivala. As the street traffic grew busier and louder around him, the buildings grew taller and the embellishments richer. He passed strange eateries where men and women sat in the shade drinking iced beverages, elaborate shops where sweating craftsmen labored by wide open windows to create and display their wares, and gated estates beyond brilliant green gardens that might have been homes, or libraries, or schools.
The gleaming white and red spires of strange temples rose in the distance, peeking out above the roofline, drawing his gaze left and right, and ever upward. But despite the temptation, he never left the boulevard. His destination lay straight ahead.
The palace of Shivala, the palace of Salloran and Makeda. After a lifetime of listening to stories about this place, it's so strange to see that it's really here, and that I can just walk to it, without some flying carpet or conquering army.
Like everything else in the city, the palace appeared to be the creation of master engineers and craftsmen who knew nothing of flaws or imperfections, or even age. No cracks, moss, rust, or other blemishes marred the shining walls. Zerai walked slowly through the white arches at the edge of the palace grounds, passing a dozen armed men and women in red robes who watched him go by without a word.
Emboldened by the silence of the guards, Zerai strode on a bit faster through the deep green gardens where young men and women in thin white robes paced between the trees talking and laughing softly to one another. Beyond the orange groves and the reflecting pools and the sundials, beyond the branching paths leading to domed halls and colonnaded porticoes, Zerai came to stand upon the shallow steps of the grand citadel.
The palace rose from the gardens like a white mountain, a monument to both the bold vision of its architect and the tireless effort of the thousands of men who had labored to build it. Every level rose as its predecessor in miniature, each arrayed with identical arched windows and terraces, and each adorned with identical geometric designs of interwoven wooden lattices, stone carvings, and wrought iron decorations painted red, gold, and black.
Near the main entrance, a middle-aged man in light flowing robes of blue and white separated himself from a group of his peers and descended the steps to nod curtly at the stranger in their midst. "Welcome to the palace of Shivala, friend. I am Jemberu Leun, minister of records. What is your business here today?"
Zerai raised his leather glove, prompting a concerned look from the other man. A high-pitched scream echoed across the skies above them and Leun looked up with gathering worry wrinkling his brow. When the white falcon swept down and sank its talons into Zerai's glove, he barely let the impact register on his outstretched arm, but the sight made the older man step back sharply with one hand raised to protect his bearded face. Zerai tossed up a scrap of briny meat and the raptor snatched it from the air.
Ah, Nezana. I knew you would follow me anywhere, even across the sea!
With the falcon still flapping its wings as it settled into place, the falconer said, "I am Zerai Djonn, son of Delaad, son of Garan, the true king of Azumar, here to seek an audience with your lord, the Negus Salloran."
Zerai felt his dry lips cracking as he spoke, and his parched tongue tried to cleave to the roof of his mouth, but he completed his introduction as rehearsed and stared into the wondering eyes of Jemberu Leun. The minister nodded slowly. "I will tell His Highness, the Negus."
Leun summoned the other men in blue robes to his side and swept into the palace, only to be replaced on the steps a moment later by a pair of grim young men in gray who carried no weapons except for the heavy gauntlets on their fists. They stared at the falconer, and he stared back in silence.
Unarmed men guard the palace doors? Could they be magi warriors?
Many minutes passed. Too many minutes. Zerai felt the weight of the falcon on his fist threatening to tear his arm from his shoulder. But he did not shudder, or waver, or tremble, not as long as the eyes of the gray warriors were upon him.
Finally the tall figure of Jemberu Leun returned from the palace doors and called out, "Please come with me, Ras Zerai."
The falconer cracked his lips just barely enough to cast a thin smile at the pair of silent guards and then he followed the man in blue into the palace.
He called me Ras. Lord. He must believe me, he knows who I am. But he didn't call me Abeto, Prince. And he didn't call me Negus. I should have expected that. If I want people to recognize me as a king in the court of the Negus of Shivala, I suppose I'll need more than an old sword and an old name.
Zerai followed Minister Leun through the first great hall. It was a massive room, wide enough and high enough to moor a warship inside it. The windows soared from the floor to the ceiling in perfect parallel lines to a row of identical arches. The marble tiles at his feet gleamed so brightly that he could see his reflection walking beneath him.
The second hall was smaller than the first, but no less grand. A single table stretched down the center of the room, a single slab of polished marble resting on hundreds of small granite pillars. Matching benches stood in tidy rows beneath the table. A handful of young men and women moved along the far walls, cleaning the windows.
Leun paused at the next set of doors. He looked back once at his guest, his eyes lingering first on the white falcon and then on the man's sandy boots. And then Leun opened the doors.
Zerai stepped into the throne room and gazed upon a multitude of men and women in blue and white robes. They stood and sat about a profusion of tables and chairs, most of them holding papers, pens, and books.
The falcon screeched a short note that echoed across the room, and what few people had been speaking a moment ago now fell silent. As every face turned toward him, Zerai felt the first faint pangs of uncertainty. He saw such order and cleanliness all about him that the mere sound of the sand under his boots grinding with his every step across the room threatened to shame him.
Next time, I'll have to look more like a prince. A bath and fresh clothes, at least. I should have thought of that. But it's too late now. There's nothing I can do about it.
He followed Leun in a snaking path around the tables, carefully gripping his sword and moving his bird-bearing arm to avoid touching the spotless scribes and ministers. As they approached the center of the room, his gaze fell upon the two thrones, two great marble seats shining white in a room of rich woods, sapphire blues, and blood reds. And beside the thrones stood a man and a woman.
They wore no gold, no jewels, and no crowns. They carried no scepters or weapons. But the man stood like a king, tall and confident, gazing at the new arrival with piercing black eyes. A prodigious gray beard laid spread upon his white-robed chest and the sunlight shone softly on his bald scalp. He placed his hand on the arm of his throne, displaying thick muscles and veins.
The fabled Negus Salloran. Even in his old age, he lives up to his legend. He could probably crush a man's skull with that hand!
The woman at his side was no less imperious in her simple white dress. The fabric was gathered on her left shoulder through an ebony ring, displaying her dark arms criss-crossed with many faded scars.
The great Nigiste Makeda. And it looks like the stories of the Queen of Shivala are true as well. She fought with her archers in the northern wars and won her husband as a warrior, though she could have won any man with her beauty alone.
And now I'm standing in front of them. We all suffered so much to get here. So many died for this moment, for me. I wish I could tell all these princes and ministers how much blood and fear it cost us, just to have me stand here in their clean little room.
These scribes should write down their names. Kaleb, Yusuf, Nahom… Look at them all, staring at me. They have no idea. They should know what the rest of the world is like. They should know how precious this clean, quiet little room really is.
Maybe another time.
Jemberu Leun brought the falconer before the thrones and bowed to the Negus, and backed away without speaking a word.
"Ras Zerai of Azumar," the king said in a gentle but deep voice. "I knew your grandfather, Garan. You have his nose." Salloran smiled as he took his seat on his white throne.
"And you are welcome here to Shivala," the queen said, taking her seat as well.
Zerai exhaled. "Thank you."
"You are lucky that I recognize your sword as well as your nose, young prince," Salloran said. "It is not every day that a man may walk out of the sea and claim to sit upon the high throne of golden Azumar. But I was young once and had my own… misadventures. These things happen to the best of us."
Zerai swallowed. "I suppose so. But I should tell you that I do not sit on the throne of Azumar. I never have."
"Yes, but your father does."
Zerai shook his head. "No. None of us do."
Salloran's smile faded. "Explain yourself."
Zerai tightened his grasp upon his sheathed sword. "Twenty years ago, Tigara was invaded from the south. Azumar was overrun and my grandfather was butchered at the monastery of Beramo. And then the rest of my family was hunted down and killed. I'm the only one who survived. I was a baby. A maid saved me."
Silence consumed the room.
"We have long suspected a war across the sea," Makeda said, her brow creased with concern. "For many years, our captains have reported troubling signs along the Tigaran coast. Burning ports. Shattered docks. Wrecked ships. There have been many strange sights and sounds along the shores. We sent an envoy to learn what had happened, but he never returned, and so we declared the far shore of the Sapphire Sea to be off-limits to all our people, for fear of being drawn into a foreign war, or worse, spreading a plague to our own lands."
"I see," Zerai said, feeling only slightly betrayed by the reason why no army from across the sea had ever come to save his country. "I might have done the same in your position."
"At least now, we will know the full truth of the matter," Salloran said. "When you have rested and eaten, we will meet again this evening to hear your tale." He gestured to Minister Leun.
"Wait, please. I'm not here to rest or eat." Zerai waved Leun back. "You need to understand. Tigara was invaded by two armies. The first came from Lashad under the command of Ras Moro Hanadin. But he never could have conquered Azumar alone. He brought a second army from even farther south. From the land of Rumaya. From the city of Naj Kuvari."
A soft gasp traveled across the crowd. Salloran's already troubled visage grew darker still, gathering deeper lines across his brow. The queen said, "But the borders of Rumaya were sealed by our clerics centuries ago to contain the creatures that dwell there."
"The seal was broken somehow," Zerai said. "The soldiers from Lashad brought the demon hordes of Naj Kuvari to Azumar, led by Ras Moro under the flag of Naj Kuvari, the flag of the war-queen Jidira. There were thousands of them, men and beasts. Today, Moro's soldiers control every town and his demons roam freely across the countryside, killing whatever they find. The rumors from the south are even worse. They say that all of Hamara is overrun with demons and no people have survived at all. And now Ras Moro sits on the golden throne of Azumar, protected by these djinn-beasts from the south."
Salloran sank one of his mighty hands into the thick folds of his beard.
"Before you say anything, great Negus, I want to say that I'm not here to ask you for your armies, or your wealth, or even a single plate of food," Zerai said, sinking down on one knee. His back and arms ached, his feet throbbed, and his head began to swim with a fresh dizziness. "As a child I heard the stories about the great magi of Shivala. I know that beyond this city there are holy mountains where four of God's angels still live and teach your people the magi arts. I have seen the beauty of your great city, and I've seen your gray warriors who carry no weapons at all, so I know the old stories are true. And that's why I'm here. My lord, I've come to study alongside your warriors at the feet of the angels, to learn the magi arts, so one day I can return to my homeland and free my people from the demons."
Zerai bowed his head and swallowed.
There. I did it. I said it. And now I can start to gain the power to fulfill my destiny and take my rightful place in—
Zerai looked up and blinked. The queen had answered him as her husband sat stroking his beard in silent contemplation. "No? My lady?"
"We cannot allow you to journey to the holy mountains or study before the living angels," Makeda said. "Such a request is impossible for us to grant."
"But…" Zerai blinked as the sunlight steaming in through the tall windows began to blur into a bright white haze across his eyes. "I…"
He slipped sideways and fell to the floor, and the last thing he heard was the scream of his white falcon.