Welcome to Paris in the Islamic year 1438 (2017 AD by Gregorian reckoning), one of many large and vibrant cities of an Ottoman Empire that’s ruled over most of Europe for the last 300 years. With the Papacy and its attendant lands long vanquished and Notre Dame repurposed as mosque European Christianity exits only in scattered pockets throughout the Continent, remnants of a once mighty and prevalent faith decimated by centuries of conversions. Though the Empire’s eastern flank stands firm against its traditional rival Tsarist Russia, new threats are emerging. Across the Atlantic, the upstart Christian Republic of America, a world leader in the promising field of renewable energy poses an existential threat to the Empire’s highly lucrative petroleum exporting monopoly. The resulting loss of revenue, and fears it will only get worse has shook the Empire to its core, driving its Arab subjects to Islamic militancy while the increasingly autocratic sultan turns to his state security apparatus to crush dissent and uphold the status quo. But after a mysterious tattooed man with a strange accent becomes a suspect in a local murder detective Kamal Arslan Agha slowly realizes he’s on the cusp of uncovering a dark secret so guarded those in power will stop at nothing to keep hidden.
Raymond Khoury’s 2019 Empire of Lies is many things. As you could probably guess both by my description and its eye-catching cover art (which I found it completely irresistible one Saturday at the public library) it’s an alternate reality novel. Time travel is also a key component along with elements of police procedural. Like any good thriller the action is fast paced with more than a few plot twists. There’s also no shortage of political commentary, most of it addressing the rise in authoritarian populism in America and abroad. (One Parisian newspaper editor is jailed by orders of the sultan for publishing “fabricated news.”) Compared favorably to both Fatherland and Man in the High Castle, based on the novel’s abundance of political commentary coupled with its Islamic setting makes it much akin to Matt Ruff’s incredibly clever and surprisingly funny 2012 novel The Mirage. All of course makes Empire of Lies a highly entertaining and inventive book and thus a great way to help kick off the new year.