The Other Sinbad is both a parody and sequel to the legendary seven voyages of Sinbad, as told in the Arabian Nights.
The ‘Other’ part of the title derives from the fact that the protagonist is a simple Baghdad porter also called Sinbad, who is taken under the wing of his more famous counterpart after the legendary sailor’s lavish lifestyle renders him bankrupt. Together they go on an eighth journey to replenish that fortune. As if the original Sinbad being an adventure magnet wasn’t bad enough, a mysterious yet easily thwarted djinni periodically tries to kill him.
Gardner avoids the confusion that having two characters sharing the same name would usually cause by making one of them the narrator, and it is the porter Sinbad’s droll retelling of the bizarre events he experiences that make this novel. Besides being a straight man in a fairy tale, it is gratifying to see how accustomed this Sinbad becomes to the dangerous scenarios he finds himself in.
Characterisation is one of Gardner’s strength, as this novel is populated with a cast that is both distinctive and memorable. It is revealed that while the meat of the famous Sinbad’s tales are true, he omitted a number of embarrassing incidents. Despite his venality and tendency to dominate conversations, he remains a sympathetic character. His child servant, Achmed, deliberately skirts the limits of the sympathetic with his subversive attitude towards his elders, but makes up for it with his preciousness. Another memorable character was Jafar, who runs the legendary sailor’s household, and demands to be beaten whenever he makes a mistake – basically what Dobby the House Elf would be like if he was taller and had a better dress sense.
Plotting was the major weakness of The Other Sinbad. Like many mythical maritime voyages, characters lurch from one surreal crisis to another. But I felt that they had too many miraculous escapes that bordered on deus ex machinas, like when the crew encounter an argumentative wizard able to clear storms just when they’re in one, or whenever the protagonist is rescued by one of the two supernatural women who are apparently in love with him. The conclusion was also another letdown, although apparently this is the first volume in a trilogy.
The Other Sinbad is a novel for adults and teenagers who enjoy comic fantasy, or who are particularly fond of The Arabian Nights. More specifically, I’d recommend it to those who enjoyed the Diana Wynne Jones novel Castle In The Sky and the Discworld novels that focus on Rincewind.