I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher, Orbit Books, in exchange for an honest review.
The Stardust Thief is the first in what is sure to be a solid, atmospheric new fantasy trilogy. This is Abdullah’s debut novel, and I found it to be a strong, well written story with compelling characters and an enchanting setting. A new riff on the classic tale of The Thousand and One Arabian Nights at its core, The Stardust Thief carves a new path into uncharted territory while still beautifully honoring its inspiration. I’ve read very little Arabic-inspired fantasy, but this book made me thirsty for more.
“Death in a free land is better than life in a gilded cage.”
Loulie is the infamous Midnight Merchant, a seller of jinn relics that are nearly impossible to locate. In the land of Madinne, jinn are viewed as monsters and killed on sight, harvested for their silver blood, which is the only thing that can breathe life into the arid landscape. The more lush the oasis, the more jinn blood has been spilled there. These jinn often leave behind relics, magical objects that can do different things, and these objects are considered priceless. Thus, Loulie has a booming business. Her secret? A magic compass and and inhuman bodyguard. She is our main perspective character, joined by Mazen and Aisha. Mazen is a prince, the youngest son of the sultan. He’s obsessed with stories, and I found him and his development delightful. Aisha is one of the forty thieves, and she took a while to grow on me.
“We’re all afraid, Prince. The only difference between a hero and a coward is that one forgets their fear and fights, while the other succumbs to it and flees.”
I ended up really enjoying all three perspective characters. I was never tempted to skim through one to reach another. All three of these characters had some serious issues to work through, but they all experienced some pretty fantastic development over the course of the story. But, while they had faults, they also had characteristics that drew me in from the beginning, especially Loulie and Mazen. I came to care about them quickly, which made me even more invested in their development. They felt realistic to me.
“…one cannot know the outcome of a journey if one is not brave enough to take it.”
While I very much enjoyed the characters, the setting was probably my favorite element of the story. I loved the descriptions of the oases, and found Abdullah’s dark take on their existence fascinating. The idea of a people being brutally slaughtered because their deaths bring life to the desert is horrifying, and not a concept I had seen before. The descriptions of the markets, and the food, and the palaces, and even the desert were all equally enchanting. Speaking of enchanting, I found the magical relics populating the story fascinating. They were so varied; some held immense power, while others may do something small, like an endless hourglass or a ring that lets you breathe underwater for a few seconds. But whatever their power, they were always unique.
“No one knows what the dead want, Loulie. All we can do is honor them in the ways we understand.”
Periodically throughout the book, Abdullah would include little stories in the style of the Arabian Night tales. I loved these, and the subtle shift in the voice of the writing that accompanied them. These stories, and what Abdullah says about the power of stories, were in my opinion the heart of the entire novel. The stories we tell have such power. The power to keep those we love alive, the power to shift perspective to such an extent that we essentially rewrite history, the power to inspire and enrage and transport. Abdullah’s belief in this power shone through in her writing.
“If there is only to be one more tale tonight, let it be the one about the storyteller who changed her fate with her fables. Let it be a story about stories and the power they have to sway mortal hearts.”
If I had any qualm with The Stardust Thief, it would be the pacing. Sometimes things seem to be trudging along for so long that, when the action suddenly hit, it felt a bit like whiplash. There were points where it was both difficult to keep up and keep going. In that regard, it felt very much like a first novel. And while I loved the characters, there were points where I became so exasperated with their stubbornness or lies or what have you that I would have to put the book down for a time and cool down before continuing. However, these complaints were infrequent, and I thought that overall this book was a strong foundation for whatever comes next.
“Though only the gods know how long we may live, we humans are the ones who decide when legacies die.”
The Stardust Thief is a truly enchanting debut, with a lush setting and characters who are easy to root for. There were times when I was reminded of Strange the Dreamer, a story I adore. And I loved the ways in which this fresh, original story paid homage to one of the oldest and most revered sets of stories in written history. This was a wonderful first installment for a fantasy series, and I can’t wait to see where Abdullah takes the story next.
All quotations taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication.
Expected publication: May 17th, 2022
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