Well, I broke one of my cardinal rules for this book. And am I sorry? Not realllllly. But have I reinforced why I have that rule in the first place? YES. What’s the rule, you ask? I’ve learned this the hard way, but I do not read books in a series unless they whole series is published. And I have to be honest with you, I break this rule so often. But really, every time I do it, I end up so annoyed at myself because I want more of the story IMMEDIATELY. I do not want to wait, sometimes years, for the next book to be published. And I hate myself, (serious, real, hate), if the book ends with a big cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are one of my LEAST FAVORITE literary devices. Like, if you write the story/characters well enough, I’ll want to read more about them even without you leaving me dangling over a fire pit or in the maws of some terrible beast for YEARS. Plus, I am not typically a rereader, and I hate that I forget details waiting for the next book to be published and then struggle between the choice to reread the first one(s) or just jump right in and hope enough details come back to me as I go. Anyways, sorry about that baby rant. Long story short, I read this first book in a trilogy, freaking LOVED it, and now I have to wait months for book two and years for book three. Woe. Is. Me.
Nahri has gotten by in the streets and markets of Cairo for years as a con woman. She’s always had a little talent for telling what ails a person, and uses that to her advantage (along with faked tea and palm readings) to swindle people out of their money. But when she accidentally calls an ancient djinn warrior during one of her “healings,” things change…quickly. The djinn spirits her away, across the desert, to a legendary city of djinn, Daevabad, where centuries of old resentments and magics are brewing into the perfect storm. A storm that she finds herself right in the center of, as her unknown origins are suddenly too known. And all her wishing to study as a real healer and to know more about her past are making her very aware that one should be careful what they wish for.
I absolutely loved the Middle Eastern folklore in this novel. I have always been particularly interested in the mythologies of different cultures, but I have a particular affinity for Middle Eastern tales. Fun fact, I minored in Arabic language in undergrad. My husband is Lebanese through his grandmother and was studying the language and culture to learn more about his own family history, as well as to use in his career (he was in the Air Force, though that is, long story short, no longer what he does). Anyways, while I cannot speak or read much anymore (you lose what you don’t practice, sadly), I love that I can still write it. It is seriously the most gorgeous written language.
Back to this review. We’ve established that I’m into all stories djinn-related. So I knew that I would love this novel. I waited awhile to read it (that pesky first novel in an unfinished series thing), but I knew I wouldn’t make it that long without picking it up. I know myself. And it delivered! This was such a fantastical story, filled with Middle Eastern (and some northern African) magics: peri, marid, ifrit, enchantments, curses and all the types of djinn you could want. And beyond that, the entirety of the world-building was just dazzling. Honestly, I want to describe it as visually stunning, and I don’t even care if that’s not possible because this was a words-only/no illustrations type novel. The colors and smells just leapt off the page. I felt like this world of cultural and traditional detail reached out, grabbed me, and pulled me inescapably into its heart.
And all of it was wrapped up in some of the most complex political intrigue that I have ever read. The interpersonal and historical relationships among the djinn and their tribes were deep and powerful. There were even, a few times, some points where I got confused inside all the old grudges and power struggles. The “who started what, and when” had me taking a step back to try and figure out the timelines of the past more than once. And I’m not completely sure there was really an answer sometimes. Which is a fascinating and truthful representation of the way things usually are. There is no clear-cut good side/bad side in reality. The lines are blurred irrevocably and each side does (in perpetuity) what they feel they must in support of their beliefs, in defense of their people, or simply in following orders. To that point, the role of rigid traditions and religion in the political landscape, the way those beliefs lead to some tribes/groups being marginalized and oppressed is quite reflective of reality. And the way that, for most, these allegiances supersede what would actually be best for a city, or a people, is also frighteningly familiar. In any case, all that to say that I loved how intense and intricate the plotting was.
The characters themselves were wonderful as well. I loved that they were all individual in their interests, thoughts and, especially, their flaws. Nahri is coming from a background of survival as the only goal, and is realistically resistant to being a pawn and a symbol in a game of beliefs and loyalty that is completely foreign to her. Dara, her warrior djinn, is enchantingly (at least for me – I’m a sucker for the dark “hero”) conflicted about his feelings for her (ones he feels he shouldn’t have, but cannot ignore), as well as his personal struggle with the terrible things he’s done in the past, some of his own will and some that were out of his control. And Ali, a prince of Daevabad, is strictly religious, and struggles between what his beliefs dictate and the loyalty he has to his father and family, and the ways he has hurt people on both sides with his actions for the others. Honestly, his naivete and internal struggles are probably the most thorny in their conflict and (especially with where his story is left at this end of this book) I cannot wait to see how he develops from here. And those are just the three main characters – there are so many more semi-minor personalities that show great promise in the roles they’ll play in the future of this saga. If I haven’t said it enough times, let me say it one more – I cannot wait and super wish I didn’t have to (can this be my wish that gets granted – please?!).
Basically, this is a wonderfully lavish and gratifying introduction to an epic new fantasy saga. I was mesmerized from the very start and I’m just gonna be over here slowly dying until I can get more.