Author: Chelsea Abdullah
Series: The Sandsea Trilogy, #1
Age Category: Adult
Publish Date: May 17, 2022
Print Length: 432
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Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, this book weaves together the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.
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.
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
THE STARDUST THIEF, the first book in a planned trilogy, spins a spellbinding tale of the power of stories. Loulie al-Nazari, the famous Midnight Merchant, locates and sells jinn relics with the help of her jinn bodygarud, Qadir. She prides herself on staying out of political schemes, but unexpectedly becomes an unwilling pawn in the sultan’s ultimate quest to rid the world of all jinn. They, along with a prince and one of the forty thieves, Aisha, begrudgingly begin their search for a magical lamp in the Sandsea.
I thought the characterization was quite well done in this book. It alternates between the three points of view of the main characters: Loulie, the prince, and Aisha. Both Loulie and Aisha witnessed horrible events young in life and survived. Through their chapters we see how these events formed their personalities. Loulie avoids long term commitment, only trusting Qadir, who rescued her when her entire tribe was murdered. Though she’d never reveal it, she’s a sensitive person and holds those she trusts to their word. Aisha, who encountered violence at the hand of the jinn, turned to a life of vengeance. As one of the famed forty thieves, she seeks out and kills any jinn she encounters. The prince, who has a penchant for storytelling, is sheltered and cowardly, but not remiss of morals and loyalty. As he experiences the world beyond the palace walls for the first time, he becomes more self aware of his perceived shortcomings and grapples with those insecurities.
As someone who knows nothing about jinn, I thought the magic system was easy to understand. That is, the jinn are the magic system. What was less clear to me was the flashbacks of jinn history that the main characters experience on their quest. These flashbacks serve a purpose. But I found it a bit confusing to keep track of the history experienced by the jinn and how that motivates them in the present. I think this is mostly my own personal issue; but I do think some of this is because things will hopefully become more clear in the next books.
However, on the whole I enjoyed learning about the jinn and their history as told from their perspective and from human folklore. One of the overarching themes of THE STARDUST THIEF is that stories offer immortality and grains of truth. But because the survivors pass on the stories, those truths become muddled or sensationalized by the winners. In this case, the winners are the humans. Their fear and greed of the jinn and their magic lead to, frankly, an ongoing genocide of the jinn. As the main characters learn more about the jinn, they inevitably learn about history from a different perspective. This ties in with another theme related to storytelling: stories have power. Just think about how pundits spin facts into half truths to suit their beliefs and move the public based on emotion; or how others may use storytelling to teach a lesson.
Another theme of this book is facing one’s fears. This includes those that are internal and unseen by others, or those of a more physical nature. As I mentioned earlier, Loulie is afraid to get close to anyone after losing her whole family and tribe as a youth. The sheltered prince is a pacifist, afraid of death and of finding himself in a situation where he’s forced to kill or be killed. Even Qadir has secrets of his own that he’s afraid to share with Loulie out of fear she’ll despise him. This ultimately leads to lessons in trusting others and in understanding that it’s ok to ask for help to push through one’s fears.
Finally, for lack of a better word, destiny plays a significant hand in the plot. Or, rather, events that transpire are born from the results of past events. “What if” scenarios become abundant as the characters learn more about each other, their families, and the past.
Overall, I really don’t have any critiques. THE STARDUST THIEF was a refreshing change of pace for me with respect to the fantasy genre. There were some delightful plot twists, a couple of which I had my suspicions about, and a couple of which surprised me. The pacing moved along at a decent clip, though I found the second half more engaging. The writing style is easy to comprehend, the characters are multi-faceted, and the world is rich in folklore and forbidden magic. It’s a very solid four stars in my mind. The only reason I chose not to rate it higher was because of my personal reading experience. I didn’t find myself so sucked in that I wanted to binge read it like I’ve felt with other books. However, I absolutely plan to continue with the trilogy, especially after that ending!
Content warnings: death, blood
Reading format: Kindle e-book