The Travels of Ibn Thomas
New Generation Publishing (2020)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (11/2020)
“The Travels of Ibn Thomas” by James Hutson-Wiley is the sequel to his book, “The Sugar Merchant.”
The book opens in the early twelfth century, about ten years after the end of the first book, and focuses on Thomas’ son, Thoma. Having been sent to Eynsham to be raised as a young boy after Thomas’ journey to Jerusalem, from where he never returned, Thoma was raised in the Christian faith as his father was, despite Thomas’ vow in “The Sugar Merchant” upon his marriage that he would raise his son in the Islamic faith. When Thoma is finally allowed to read his father’s writings and learns that he is to travel to the Salernitan Medical School to become a physician, he thinks that maybe he’ll find his place after all. At school he flourishes, and soon is striking out into the world as a Court Physician in Sicily. Unfortunately, Thoma’s time in the sun is cut short when he is approached by a suspicious, unforgiving priest from the Order of St. John, who tells him he must take up his father’s mantel as a spy for the church in order to repay Thomas’ old debts. In order to survive encounters with pirates, assassins and crusaders, as well as accomplish his original goal of finding out what happened to his father on his own journey to Jerusalem, Thoma will have to dig deep inside himself to question what he once thought of as solid truths and come to terms with what God’s purpose for him really is.
“The Travels of Ibn Thomas” is a sound follow-up to “The Sugar Merchant,” connecting old faces and memories to new characters and conflicts. The world is changing, and religious and political strife are making life dangerous for “infidels.” Christians, Jews, and Muslims are continuing to live peacefully amongst each other in some places, whereas in others they wish to eradicate the presence of those of differing faiths entirely. Like the first book, Hutson-Wiley has filled his sequel with a lot of important historical details. I found that this book moved a little quicker than “The Sugar Merchant,” however, and was the result of Thoma’s journey being a bit more suspenseful and dangerous than Thomas’s was in the first book. It seemed like Thoma was always running into new kinds of trouble, but instead of seeming overwhelming, each new struggle continued to add context to the overall plot and would have direct impact on the eventual resolution of this second book.
I also liked that, in contrast to his father, who was always so sure of his faith, Thoma was not. He was constantly torn between wondering whether he belonged in the Muslim world or the Christian community. Having been raised in both faiths at one point or another growing up, Thoma didn’t understand how he was supposed to fit in to either sect. He also knew that no matter which world he decided to belong to, there would always be those who challenged his place there and who believed he didn’t belong – that he was an infidel. This internal conflict adds a layer to the central theme from the first book, which was that having different religious beliefs from another person didn’t paint either one as evil or in the wrong, they just belonged to different cultures. Just because one person believes in Allah, and another believes that Jesus is the Messiah, doesn’t mean that peace and unity is impossible. I found that Thoma’s inner struggles with his faith emphasized this even more, because in him readers can identify their own struggles with religion, culture or simply their overall identity.
Finally, the pacing of “The Travels of Ibn Thomas” was easy to quickly progress through, as the author added section breaks and headings which really helped to remind the reader of where they were in the story. It also allowed for readers to find good stopping points if they needed to take a break in a long chapter.
“The Travels of Ibn Thomas” is a fantastic follow-up to “The Sugar Merchant.” Readers who enjoyed the first book will definitely want to delve into Thoma’s story right away. History lovers, adventure addicts and those looking to discover something new about themselves within the pages of a book would be well advised to give this series a read.