Nothing beats being swept away to a desert world filled with magic, jinn, deep political intrigue, and a group of four very different people coming to find a magical lamp. Thanks to Orbit Books for a gifted copy of the book.
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.
Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, The Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.
I’m going to try my best to write this review because this is the first book in a long time where there’s so much to cover and so little I can share because it would spoil way too much. Yes, there’s a journey into the deserts to find a magical lamp. But aside that is a much deeper look into the magic, the world, the politics, and the secrets that the book will slowly reveal throughout. It’s a slow burning epic fantasy with fun interludes throughout the book that tell the real tales from One Thousand and One Nights. It takes a little time to get into, but will blow you away by the end. It will make you want the second book as soon as it’s available (I know this because that’s me right now).
The Stardust Thief is definitely a book that puts emphasis more on the journey than the destination. The story begins introducing the four characters you’ll be well acquainted with by the end. Loulie is The Midnight Merchant, a thief and a seller of jinn relics she finds alongside her jinn bodyguard, Qadir. Mazen is the third prince to the sultan and forced to stay in the palace, but the sultan doesn’t know that Mazen sneaks out to hear the stories being told in the souk. Aisha is a thief and a member of the palace’s forty thieves. Her loyalties lie with the first son, Omar, who is the leader of the forty thieves. Each of these characters is different in their own ways and while I started off liking only two, I ended up having an affinity for all four by the end.
These four people from varying backgrounds and worlds are about to embark on an adventure across the desert to find a mysterious jinn relic; a lamp that houses the most powerful jinn ever. The sultan is dead set on removing all jinn from existence and with the help of the most powerful jinn, he hopes to eradicate them from this world. Why? Because according to the sultan, they are evil. They are devilish things that don’t deserve to exist. I mean, it doesn’t hurt that they also make magical relics that humans can use and manipulate magic for themselves. You just need to kill a few jinn to get them.
That comes to one of the big themes of this book; the good vs. evil theme. For people like Omar, the sultan, Aisha, and many of the humans that live here, the jinn are nothing but scary demons come to hurt and kill any humans they come across. Their fear motivates their hatred and without any hesitation will take out any jinn they come across. However, for people like Loulie, the jinn have been nothing but a godsend who saved her when her tribe was destroyed in a terrible fire. This push/pull between who is right/wrong, what is good/evil really brings a powerful dynamic to the story especially since it’s interwoven into the politics, the beliefs, and the decisions each of these characters make.
As the bigger secrets of this story start to reveal themselves, you see that these jinn are no different than humans. The only major difference is that they have magic and we don’t. The magic in this book is also huge. I think it’s one of the most magical books I’ve read in a really long time. Shapeshifting jinn, shadow jinn, jinn who can raise the dead, compasses that can show you the way to what you’re looking for, and so much more. I honestly loved how much magic existed in this world and how well it was incorporated into the story. That alongside the epic world building will just put you right into the heart of this story.
I’m a huge fan of desert fantasy books, so this one was right up my alley. But the descriptions and world building Chelsea Abdullah puts into her book are so vivid that you can actually smell the spices wafting through the souk. You can truly imagine the life happening throughout the towns. You can feel the heat of the desert sun on your face and the cool, dark breeze of the hidden caves. It was truly a magical place that swept you away. Chelsea Abdullah’s writing is poetic, secretive, and mysterious. You’ll be scratching your head at certain passages, but trust that she will reveal all to you as the story progresses.
While the story starts off slowly, it definitely picks up with all the fighting, mystery, and political intrigue that takes place. I was so surprised by how much politics and intrigue this story had because I thought it would be a very straightforward retelling. But Chelsea Abdullah took this story and really made it her own. And while it definitely has its fair share of betrayal and revenge, once you see the truth behind everything you understand that it’s a much deeper plot hidden underneath. Although this is the story about retrieving a magical lamp, this is in no way Aladdin and it really shouldn’t be compared to it. It’s much deeper than that and as I mentioned before, it’s all about the journey and not the destination with this one.
Overall, an incredible start to a new trilogy that I will happily continue reading. The book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but it will still make you clamor for the next one.