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Book: “The Stardust Thief” by
Publishing Info: Orbit, May 2022
Where Did I Get this Book:
Book Description: Neither here nor there, but long ago…
Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.
With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.
Review: I’ve had really good luck with Middle Eastern fairytales, especially ones that focus on the ever-popular jinns. Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I read a jinn story that I didn’t really enjoy. Indeed, the last few have made my favorites lists for the year. This is both a blessing and a curse: I get super excited whenever I see another jinn story coming down the pike, but I get more and more nervous that this next one will be the one to break the streak. Well…NOT TODAY, book gods, not today.
Loulie’s entire existence, her success, even, depends on her anonymity. Selling ill-begotten magical goods is not the type of business that does well with light shone upon it. So when she saves the life a prince and unwittingly draws the eye of his father the sultan, Loulie is dismayed to find herself in the last place she wanted: out in the open and on a mission to find the impossible. With her jinn bodyguard, said cowardly prince (though she may not know it), and a cold-eyed thief with loyalties of her won, the group heads out into a desert known for its secrets…and the fact that no one returns from its endless dunes.
This was one of those interesting books where when I started it I wasn’t quite sure that it was going to be a hit. On one hand, Loulie’s character immediately jumped off the page. But than I realized it was a multiple POV story (both the prince and thief have their own chapters), and I was less immediately enthralled with either of them. It also has a bit of a slower start and is paced is an interesting manner. There are a lot of side quests/stories in this book, which initially kept jerking me out of the main thrust of the story. But as the book continued, I began to see how the author was tying in a great number of the stories from “One Thousand and One Nights” and how each of these smaller excursions all slowly wove together towards our final conflict. By the time I had read the first third, I was totally engrossed and it was nothing but a positive reading experience from there!
Once I understood what the author was doing with the book, I greatly enjoyed it. I also came to appreciate both of the other POVs. Mazen is a bookish, fairly cowardly prince who is clearly entirely out of his depth on this mission with two powerful women, but his story of self-discovery is satisfying in every way. For her part, Aisha, the older prince’s thief and eyes and ears on this mission, begins to learn that she must rely on her own decision making and her own belief of right and wrong to move through the world. What once was a simple mission of revenge quickly begins to look like something else. Loulie, or Layla, also goes through an arch of self-discovery. After having her entire identity centered around her role as a merchant and her reliance on her jinn bodyguard, Layla must confront who she is without these powerful forces. Is her power all a façade?
I also really liked the exploration of stories and myths themselves. How they have incredible power, but also how they can be twisted and used over time for nefarious purposes. The power of the storyteller is central, but the listener can also make their own power from how they interpret what is being told to them. I especially like the history and powers of the jinn, and the role they play in each of our characters’ stories, for both good and bad. While I could predict a few of the twists, there were also a fair number of surprises in store throughout. The book also ends with a bang, leaving the reader ready and eager for the next installation. I for one will definitely be picking it up!
Rating 9: Centered around the power of stories, this book explores themes like self-discovery and self-determination in a magic and adventure filled romp.
“The Stardust Thief” can be found on this Goodreads list: 2022 Book Releases by Asian Authors