A novel based on an idea by Morwen Edhelwen. The plot can be described as "A combination of the Arabian Nights with The Desert Song, with some steampunk and Alternate History. It was intended as a response to/commentary on Romberg's operetta and on Orientalist works with Arab cultures and settings.
The mysterious L'Ombre Rouge, or the Red Shadow, is the leader of a semi-nomadic Riff tribe in the mountains of the Sahara desert called the Oulad Qamar, who are rebelling against the Neustrian Foreign's Legion's control of the southern region of the country of Qeshimor. The Oulad Qamar's culture is based mostly on herding and trading, with a strong code of honour and hospitality. However, many men in the tribe are skilled warriors, horsemen, metalworkers and raiders and the women are known as dancers and courtesans. The Foreign Legion, with the help of the Christian parts of Tartessos, is attempting to chase down the bandit leader.
The Red Shadow is actually a fourteen-year-old who's the youngest son of the dead previous Caid, has the ability to change his appearance and mannerisms at will. If he observes a person frequently enough, he can also automatically pick up their knowledge, leading to a perfect disguise and general success in raids so far. This ability's one of the reasons for his nickname, along with his red burnoose.
In order to ensure the chances of a successful campaign, our hero infiltrates the Neustrian fort by adopting the form of the General's son Pierre, who was once a Legion officer, feels that he can never please his father after a traumatic incident, secretly sympathises with the Riffs, and loves to write poetry, getting the real Pierre involved with the cause by showing him how to create better illusions in order to throw his father off on the hunt for the Red Shadow by taking the leader's place on raids.
This work contains examples of the following tropes:
- A Child Shall Lead Them: The Red Shadow, Caid of the Oulad Qamar, is only 14.
- Alternate History: The Caliphate of Cordoba still exists.
- "Arabian Nights" Days: Flying carpets, powerful kings, luxurious palaces, dancers, maze-like streets, casbahs and ifrits in a steampunk colonial setting with a Foreign Legion.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: General Bierbeau of the Foreign Legion is a skilled swordsman and excellent soldier. So is Captain Fontaine. Justified as a successful military officer in a force like the Legion has to be very skilled and able to cope with the harsh discipline. Their role is as a supporting force to the regular army. Also, the Red Shadow and his lieutenant, Sa'id Abdel-Kader (Sid).
- Bedouin Rescue Service: The Red Shadow's men rescue a Columbian (no, that's not a typo reporter who lost sight of his guide andconvince him to join them.
- Belly Dancer: Many of the Riff female characters, especially Tiziri.
- Bilingual Bonus: "Oulad (or "Ouled") Qamar" means "Children of The Moon." "Qurtuba" is Arabic for Cordoba.
- But Not Too Black: The Red Shadow is of mixed Arab, Berber, and Black West African ancestry and is obviously a bit darker than most of his tribesmen. His grandmother on his father's side was a Black slave and concubine who his grandfather, a tribal chief, fell in love with.
- Expy: Tiziri is basically Azuri from The Desert Song, but more sympathetic.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Qeshimor is Algeria and Morocco, Neustria is France, Tartessos is Spain (Qurtuba is Andalusia), Bretaigne is Britain, Columbia is the United States of America. Costa da Pimenta is Liberia. The Riffs are basically Bedouins and Sahraoui, with aspects of actual Moroccan Riffs and the Ouled Nail in Algeria.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Nabila, Sid's wife, was a dancer and prostitute in her youth. Also Tiziri and other Riff girls and women, and Doña Clementina, the Spanish actress, singer and dancer.
- Inspiration Nod: Both this novel and The Desert Song have a reporter called Ben(nie) who joins a gang of Riffs, a Spanish courtesan named Clementina, a Caid named Ali Ben Ali, a bandit called the Red Shadow, a General's son named Pierre, a French girl named Margot Bonvalet, and a Captain Paul Fontaine.
- Magitek: Explosives powered by ifrits.
- Meaningful Name: "Tiziri" means "Moonlight" and Tiziri's beauty is often compared to the moon.
- Mixed Ancestry: Tiziri is the granddaughter of a Legion officer who had a Riff (Qamari) mistress.
- Named After Somebody Famous: The Red Shadow's name is Anwar Khattabi after the famous Moroccan freedom fighter Abd-el Krim el-Khattabi, who was the inspiration for the Romberg character.
- Older Sidekick: Sid was the Red Shadow's father's closest friend.
- Parental Substitute: Sid, Nabila, and Aminah (a slave woman who was the Red Shadow's wet nurse) for the Red Shadow/Anwar. Also, the General has been Margot's guardian after her father died in the line of duty, fighting for the Legion.
- Recycled In Space: The Desert Song WITH TEENAGERS AND STEAMPUNK AND MAGIC!
- Shout-Out: Clementina ran the "House of The Brass Key'' back home. When Ali asks her about the key on her neck, she says "It's the key to my heart, which you can keep if you know how to open the door."
- Waxing Lyrical:
- "Do you hear the thunder of the Shadow and his band? It's the sound that warns you the Riffs will strike a blow."
- "I'm officially one good boy gone wrong! Here's to flinging my youth away!"