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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty (Reviewed by Shazzie)

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OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Shannon Chakraborty is the author of the critically acclaimed and internationally best-selling The Daevabad Trilogy. Her work has been translated into over a dozen languages and nominated for the Hugo, Locus, World Fantasy, Crawford, and Astounding awards. When not buried in books about medieval seafarers and con artists, she enjoys hiking, knitting, and re-creating unnecessarily complicated historical dishes. You can find her online at or on Twitter and Instagram at @SAChakrabooks, where she likes to talk about history, politics, and Islamic art. She currently lives in New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and an ever-increasing number of cats.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Amina al-Sirafi should be content. After a storied and scandalous career as one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates, she’s survived backstabbing rogues, vengeful merchant princes, several husbands, and one actual demon to retire peacefully with her family to a life of piety, motherhood, and absolutely nothing that hints of the supernatural.
But when she’s tracked down by the obscenely wealthy mother of a former crewman, she’s offered a job no bandit could refuse: retrieve her comrade’s kidnapped daughter for a kingly sum. The chance to have one last adventure with her crew, do right by an old friend, and win a fortune that will secure her family’s future forever? It seems like such an obvious choice that it must be God’s will.

Yet the deeper Amina dives, the more it becomes alarmingly clear there’s more to this job, and the girl’s disappearance, than she was led to believe. For there’s always risk in wanting to become a legend, to seize one last chance at glory, to savor just a bit more power…and the price might be your very soul.

FORMAT/INFO: The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi is the first book in the Amina Al-Sirafi series. It will be published in hardcover, ebook and audio formats by Harper Voyager on March 2nd 2023 in the U.K. and on February 28th in the U.S.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: It's always a nerve-wracking experience when the author of one of your favourite trilogies writes a new series, and this was no different. Shannon Chakraborty did not disappoint at all.

I am eager for any and every chance to recommend Shannon's Daevabad trilogy, since I consider it to be one of the most bingeable fantasy tales I've ever read. I had to read the River of Silver as soon as I had a copy in my hands, and I was absolutely thrilled to read more from her. I might've even let out a squeal when she announced that this was coming our way in 2023.

The titular character of this series is Amina al-Sirafi, one of the Indian Ocean's most notorious female pirates. She is retired, and all she wants is to live comfortably with her family, and the best future for her daughter, Marjana. And of course, she wants absolutely nothing to do with the supernatural. She gets tracked down by a very rich woman, who gives her an offer she absolutely cannot refuse, and she has to get the crew back together to finish the job that came her way so that she can retire again and live her dream life.

"Women are the forgotten spouses and unnamed daughters. Wet nurses and handmaidens; thieves and harlots. Witches. A titillating anecdote to tell your friends back home or a warning."

I think the biggest allure of this book is in the narration. Yes, the frame narrative is very popular lately, but there is one thing that Shannon does differently here. Amina's narration is raw, and feels extremely vulnerable to the reader. It is so smooth that I had a hard time remembering the fact that I was reading this tale through the words of an unreliable narrator.

Amina as a narrator and character is part of what makes this book a phenomenally entertaining read. As a narrator, she is entertaining, and absolutely knows how to tell a story to make you feel fondness for her ragtag crew. As a character, she is one of the most interesting I have come across. She scoffs at societal expectations, is very honest about what she wants and values, and is not afraid to call out double standards. And the best thing about her? She is unapologetic about it. Yes, she is a mother and wants the best of her child, but she is also conflicted about the fact that she missed her nautical life and doesn't want to give it up yet. She constantly thinks of her child and feels guilt for being away from her for the most part of the book, and yet she also knows that doing so is going to help her ensure a more stable future for her family.

This book handles multiple themes - motherhood while retaining one's individuality, loyalty, faith, and storytelling. My favourite parts of the story were the ones that dealt with the message that what we tell our children, especially our daughters, can shape how they view themselves and find their identities. I love it when books with frame narratives explore the effect that stories have on entire cultures and populations, and Shannon uses this to make a wonderful point about the fact that who tells the story can be as important (or more) as the story itself. The best part is that while it talks about multiple serious ideas, it doesn't lack any lighter moments. There are plenty of hilarious scenes in the story, and almost all of the characters add to them.

I would like to highlight another very heartwarming aspect of this book: it is one that contains characters of various ethnicities and faiths, and yet they work together without any prejudice. If there's a trope I can't get enough of, it's the found family one, and this crew makes for the best ones.

What about the magic and the myths? The story is just getting started. As much as Amina wants to stay far away from anything supernatural, she gets to do none of that. There are plenty of hints as to what might come, and readers of the Daevabad trilogy will definitely find something to smile at in this book.

CONCLUSION: The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi is a phenomenally entertaining historical fantasy. It is a celebration of motherhood, faith, and being true to oneself. It is a riveting adventure story infused with lore and mythology that should be on every fantasy reader's list.



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