Book review: Wilmington-based philosopher Tom Morris continues his philosophical adventure yarns with "The Viper and the Storm."
In it, a grizzled old trader and his young nephew cross the Egyptian desert in 1934, talking about personal issues, such as how to keep balance in one's life and how to set goals.
Things are not as they seem. The old trader, Ali, turns out to be the rightful king of Egypt; the boy, Walid, is his heir. Their caravan is a cover for a planned coup to return Ali to his throne.
The plan succeeds, and in a series of novels since -- "The Golden Palace," "The Stone of Giza" -- Morris let us know what happened next. His Egypt lies in an alternate universe where King Farouk, Col. Nasser and a host of historical figures never existed; rather, it's the Egypt of old "Arabian Nights" movies, with more than a little Indiana Jones and Harry Potter thrown in.
His latest, "The Viper and the Storm," continues the saga, and it ought to find an audience with at least some lovers of fantasy.
Walid, of course, is still the crown prince, living in the palace at Cairo, with his uncle and his wise-cracking best friend Mafulla. He is also now an initiate into a mysteries order of Phi, a secret society of seekers of wisdom and order. (Picture the Jedi knights as philosophers.)
Right now, Walid and Mafulla are attending an elite school in the palace. (Think Hogwarts for philosophy majors.) In their spare time, the two young teens are testing their wings as masked crime fighters, "The Golden Viper" and "Windstorm," foiling robberies out in the market.
"The Viper and the Storm" finds a number of villains from previous books (including the sinister British adventurer Sir Harvey Kincaid) slinking back into the capital, plotting a return to the bad old order. Part of the plot somehow involves the delivery of a brand-new fleet of red Rolls Royces to the palace.
Meanwhile, Walid, Mafulla and a number of other students (including Kissa and Hasini, the girls they're sweet on) are off on a field trip to the ancient ruins of Memphis and the pyramids at Giza. Their departure has been observed, and vile plots are afoot.
Morris has a charming way of mixing swashbuckler with speculation. Like the earlier novels, "The Viper and the Storm" often reads like a boys' adventure novel. (Is it just me, or do Walid and Mafulla really sound like The Hardy Boys?)
There is, however, a serious underpinning. Sometimes, it comes closer to the surface, as when Walid and his uncle talk about flaws in Machiavelli's "The Prince." Sometimes, it's subtler. Certainly, one big issue is how good people can navigate a world of evil and peril without compromising their values.
Morris, who manages his Morris Institute of Human Values from Wilmington, has spent a lot of his time debating such topics in his addresses to American corporations and in such books as "True Success" and "The Art of Achievement."
A good editor could show Morris how to trim. Much of his material is repetitive; a loyal spy will arrive at the palace to report unsavory goings-on in one chapter, and King Ali will essentially repeat everything he says, at length, to Ali in the next chapter.
The whole yarn retains an appeal, however, with its sometimes bumptious imagination and an underlying humanity. In Plato's Republic, however, Mafulla would probably face capital punishment for his atrocious wordplay. The topic might be philosophy, but much of the book really is written from the point of view of a 13-year-old.
Reporter Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-343-2208 or Ben.Steelman@StarNewsOnline.com.
-- Sent from my Linux system.