Monday, April 29, 2013

Daughters of Destiny

Wow, I have handled Baum's books intended for adult readers (as in not intended for young readers, not that they contained risque material) way out of order!

Daughters of Destiny was part of Baum's 1906 bumper crop of books, and definitely inspired by his trip to Europe and Egypt. It was published under the Schuyler Staunton pseudonym.

The edition you see pictured is a reprint by Hungry Tiger Press. They had included the book as the rare Baum novel for Oz-Story 4 in 1998. Included from their previous reprint are many excellent illustrations by Eric Shanower, which include one per chapter for the heading, as well as a few more textual illustrations and a design at the bottom of each page.

There is also a cheaper new print on demand reprint by Pulpville Press, but it of course doesn't include Shanower's illustrations. I suppose it's fine, since I was actually pleased with their reprint of The Fate of a Crown, but I definitely prefer Hungry Tiger Press' lavish edition. There are also plainer print on demand editions in hardcover, but as their prices are up at $30, you might as well get the Hungry Tiger Press one. You can also read the book for free at Google Books.

The story concerns the fictional country of Baluchistan. An American company sends a delegation to get the right of way to put a railroad through this Middle Eastern country, and the delegation consists of Colonel Piedmont Moore, Dr. Warner, Colonel Moore's daughter Janet and son Allison, their Aunt Lucy, and Janet's friend Bessie. They are led by a Baluchistan native named Kasam who claims that his family has the proper right to rule Baluchistan, but the throne was wrested from them, but it is possible that Burah, the current Khan, will soon die, and if he cannot turn the throne over to his son Ahmed, that will make Kasam the ruler by default.

And speaking of that, a Persian physician is fighting to keep Burah alive while faithful servant Dirrag goes to retrieve Ahmed from the monastery where he's spent all his life. But Ahmed is reluctant to go, being given over dutifully to his Muslim beliefs. However, Dirrag soon rides back with an Ahmed in tow. But when they arrive in the capitol city of Mekran (thanks in part to briefly joining Kasam's group), Burah has been dead for two days. So why do the people of Mekran see Burah name Ahmed as his successor?

The intrigue is only beginning, however, thanks to the scheming of the vizier's daughter Maie. What is going on in Baluchistan, and why is so much attention being paid to Janet?

Baum writes in his excellent style for adventure stories, but longtime readers can spot that he often turned to certain tropes that are at play here: duplicity, people taking the blame for serious crimes, sudden revelations of things that seemed to have worked out insanely well that they're almost a deus ex machina... Wait, he did all that in the first Mary Louise book as well...

Although Baluchistan is a fictional country, Baum writes as one quite enamored with the Middle East. There is a regrettable stereotype in character of David the Jew who will do anything for money. (Why is it that critics mind if these stereotypes show up in fiction over a hundred years old, but no one bans Family Guy or South Park for using them now?) The culture of Baluchistan is actually very well established, and Baum leads us to think that perhaps that shouldn't be changed.

Altogether, Daughters of Destiny is one of Baum's better adventure novels. Unlike The Last Egyptian, we actually have people we want to cheer for, though The Fate of a Crown is still a beast all to itself.


Eric said...

Baluchistan is not a fictional country — sort of. It's an actual region of Iran (or Persia, as it would have been know then) that extends into modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan. I don't know all of the details, but I seem to recall reading somewhere that at the turn of the twentieth century, it was on the verge of becoming its own country. So Daughters of Destiny actually does have its roots embedded in real world events, much like The Fate of a Crown, the other book by "Schuyler Staunton".

Judy said...

Eric is correct. I presented a paper on Daughters of Destiny at the Oz gathering at Fresno and he did base this novel (very loosely) on a real place although the dynastic succession issues he describes are fictional.