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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim (Reviewed by Shazzie)


Official author website

Order Spice Road here - U.S. | U.K.

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Maiya Ibrahim is the debut author of SPICE ROAD, publishing January 24, 2023 from Delacorte Press and Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette.

She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Technology Sydney. When she isn’t writing, reading, or spending time with her family, she enjoys video games, gardening, and expanding her collection of rare trading cards. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

She is represented by Peter Knapp of Park & Fine Literary and Media, Claire Wilson of RCW Literary, and Mary Pender-Coplan of United Talent Agency.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: In the hidden desert city of Qalia, secret spice magic awakens affinities in those who drink the misra tea. With an affinity for iron, seventeen-year-old Imani wields a dagger like no other warrior, garnering her the reputation as the next greatest Shield for battling the dangerous djinn, ghouls, and other monsters that lurk in the sands beyond city limits.

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother who tarnished the family name after he was discovered stealing their nation's coveted spice - a tell-tale sign of magical obsession. He disappeared soon after, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes, and leaving Imani reeling with both betrayal and grief.

But when Imani uncovers evidence her brother may be alive and spreading their nation's magic beyond the desert, she strikes a deal with the Council to find him and bring him back to Qalia before he can reveal the city's location. Accompanied by Qayn, a roguish but handsome djinni, and Taha, a powerful beastseer whose magical talents are matched only by his arrogance, they set out on their mission.

Imani will soon discover there are many secrets that lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes - and in her own heart - but will she find her brother before his betrayals endanger the fate of all of Qalia?

FORMAT/INFO: Spice Road was published on January 24th, 2023 by Hodder and Stoughton in the U.K, and by Delacorte Press in the U.S. It is available in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats. It is the first book in the Spice Road Trilogy.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ever since I read The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, I have been looking for more young adult fantasy series set in an Arabian-inspired land. Maiya Ibrahim has scratched that itch with the Spice Road.

The tale begins in a hidden desert city of Qalia that has access to magic that amplifies the natural affinities of those who drink tea containing the bark of the misra tree. Our narrator is seventeen year old Imani of the Beya clan, who has an affinity for iron and is famous as the Djinni Slayer, and has a reputation for being the youngest Shield. She has great mastery over weapons and uses her skills to keep her people safe from the djinn, ghouls and other monsters that spread across the sands of the Sahir.

Imani and her family are trying to deal with the supposed death of her brother Atheer, who disappeared and was never to be found. Ever since, her family has never been the same, and her sister Amira has been playing truant. When they find signs that Atheer may be alive, and spreading their nation's secret magic to outsiders, she is sent with a crew led by Taha, her rival Shield, to stop her brother and bring him back to the council.

Since the book is narrated by Imani, who is known to be as stubborn as a mountain, your mileage with this book may vary. In the first few pages, I found her rash, self-absorbed, self-righteous, and extremely dramatic.  She wants to do her duty, and believes that there is no truth in the world but the history of her people as she knows it. And her steadfast devotion to Atheer means that she is convinced that he was either not stealing the misra spice like they suspect, or that there is another explanation that fits what she likes to believe of him, and that there's no in-between. I'll be honest, I initially thought her sister Amira would have been a better choice for the narrator, I had to put this book aside and take a break before I gave it another try, and I am happy I did.

Over the course of the story, the interactions that Imani has with the rest of the crew on the mission, along with those with the djinn she is bound to, Qayn, changes the way her perception of many things in the world. Through Imani's indoctrinated lenses, Maiya addresses racism, classism, colonization, prejudice and bias throughout the story, and by the end of this book, Imani shows growth as a character but retains a believable amount of her obstinacy. As another very obstinate person myself, how could I not appreciate that?

The journey that the cast of characters takes to rescue Atheer pays homage to well known works. It might seem tropey in places, but the author breathes fresh life into them with her lush prose, gorgeous descriptions, and keeps the story moving at a snappy pace. In places, the prose is a bit over-indulgent for my personal taste, but I don't see it being an issue for many readers. It is clear that Maiya is a talented writer. I've heard that this is expected to be an enemies-to-lovers romance, but in my opinion, there is a lot of confused pining and angst on Imani's end, and I really liked that. I do have issues with Taha, and I need him to do better in the sequel. The sibling dynamics captured in this book will be relatable to anybody who grew up with older siblings and realized that there was more to their lives than they ever imagined.

This book doesn't explore the full scope of the magic system, and neither does it have as much worldbuilding as most fantasy readers would like, but it sets a foundation for that to be remedied in the upcoming books. One major drawback for me was that there was a revelation in the end that seemed very convenient given the high stakes.

CONCLUSION: Minor niggles aside, I really enjoyed reading Spice Road. It is a lovely start to an epic fantasy series, and I await the sequel eagerly. It has a lot of elements that will appeal to a broad audience. If you're looking for a beautifully written book packed with detail, this is for you.


Anonymous said...

Really great honest review. I didn’t know that this was going to be part of a series, not sure if I should wait until it’s completed (I hate loose ends/ cliffhangers that I have to remember for a year!) I hope this isn’t a love triangle either what with the two hot men she travels with (although one is a djinn so…..)


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