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Book: “This Woven Kingdom” by Tahereh Mafi
Publishing Info: HarperCollins, March 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: To all the world, Alizeh is a disposable servant, not the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom forced to hide in plain sight.
The crown prince, Kamran, has heard the prophecies foretelling the death of his king. But he could never have imagined that the servant girl with the strange eyes, the girl he can’t put out of his mind, would one day soon uproot his kingdom—and the world.
Perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Tomi Adeyemi, and Sabaa Tahir, this is the explosive first book in a new fantasy trilogy from the New York Times bestselling and National Book Award-nominated author Tahereh Mafi.
Review: I’ve had a lot of luck in the past with books featuring Jinn. Several of my favorite fantasy novels both old (“City of Brass”) and new (“Daughter of the Salt King“) have featured these magical creatures and the, often unique, cultures and mythologies built up around them. So when I saw another fantasy novel coming out with a Jinn main character, I knew I had to read it ASAP!
Working as a lowly house maid, Alizeh is cautiously optimistic that, at last, she will be able to lead a quiet life in the shadows, no one ever knowing who she is. That is, a Queen to the powerful, but oppressed, Jinn who have been dispersed across the land and only await the call of a leader to come together once again. For Kamran, any threat to his father’s reign is one to take seriously. So when he bumps into a house maid with skills that should not belong to one in such a class of people, he immediately senses a spy and threat. As he circles closer to the truth, Alizeh also begins to feel the stirrings of change, much as she wishes to repel it.
This book had everything I look for in the start of a new fantasy trilogy. To begin with, the world felt vast yet understandable. The history was rich and complicated, but presented in an approachable way. I particularly enjoyed the history and legends of the Jinn themselves. We get some early backstory to their existence early in the book, but as the story continues to unfold, we get a closer look at how their current standings in society have affected Alizeh’s existence. Mafi deftly nails how a once powerful race could become reduced to a scrap of people who exist in the shadows, how comprise to end bloodshed does not end oppression and prejudice, and how power struggles can go beyond who has the most force (magic, in this case).
Alizeh was such a great character. Her life is full of struggle and hardship, and yet we see her persevere in the face it all. There were very strong “A Little Princess” vibes from her. We also got to see examples of the power she must keep hidden within herself. And while it gives her advantages, she’s not presented as an over-powered Mary Sue. Instead, we see hardships that have come with her “gift” of being the chosen Queen, pains that tax her daily, both physically and emotionally. Her life has been one of tragedy, and when we meet her, she’s all but given up on any hopes of fulfilling her role, preferring instead to exist in a safe, quiet life in the shadows.
For his part, Kamrad’s life has been much more straight forward and existing in whites and blacks, trusting that his family is on the right side of all conflict. His story is much more that of someone losing the blinders they’ve hid behind throughout their life. The story never shies away from the crippling pain that would come with these sorts of revelations, especially about people who are dear. But with all of this, his story was believable, in that all of these revelations and challenges to his perceptions would result in slow, incremental change. His life has been one of duty, and we see the constant tensions playing within him between this loyalty and his inherent sense of right and wrong.
I also appreciated that the romance of the story was quiet and often in the background of the story. It slowly builds as the story unfolds, but neither character is swept up so much as to forget their own challenges and priorities. It’s the exact sort of start to a grand romance that I look for. There are several books to go and, for the most part, these two barely know each other at this point. There’s still plenty of room to grow, and I’m glad the author didn’t give it all way in the very first book.
The book does end on quite a cliffhanger, so readers should beware of that going in. However, it’s so strongly written and imaginative, that I still very much recommend fantasy fans check it out!
Rating 10: Beautiful and compelling while exploring themes of loyalty, oppression, and the challenge of seeing one’s world as it is.