Hello, everyone! I’m finally reviewing The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah, which was one of my most anticipated books of the first half of this year. I’m happy I managed to read and review it prior to publication, even if only by one day. This book will be out on Tuesday. So, be sure to pick up your copy if my review piques your interest!
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.
Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, The Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.
***Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit Books for the copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
I was so excited to read this book as soon as I read the synopsis and saw it was inspired by One Thousand and One Nights. I was OBSESSED with Aladdin as a child and that led to a fascination with this collection of Middle Eastern folktales, as well. So, I was looking forward to seeing a new creation inspired by these stories in the voice of someone from that particular part of the world. Luckily, it didn’t disappoint!
I definitely got gender-swapped Aladdin vibes from the story, especially at the beginning. There wasn’t a ton of romance, though, which surprised me at first. In retrospect, I like that the story didn’t lean too much into the romance because it leaves the door open for multiple options in future installments and allowed us to get to know the characters as individuals. Although, I already have the coupling I’m hoping for in mind, but I won’t tell yet. 🙂
I really enjoyed how the stories from One Thousand and One Nights were incorporated throughout the book, both as events faced by the characters and as stories told as part of their culture. The book also tackled the theme of story-telling being a powerful force that can be harnessed for both good and evil. It illustrated how stories shape culture, religion, and conflict in a myriad of important ways.
The prose was excellent. I honestly never really wanted to put the book down once I started reading. It was vivid and descriptive without being overly bogged down by details. I felt like I was in the desert fighting all the sand along with the characters. The world-building was interesting, and I enjoyed learning more and more about the Jinn and their magic as the story went along. The pace was fairly fast, especially once the characters embarked on their journey, and the plot didn’t really allow very many quiet moments. In general, I’m not a huge fan of the quest trope and tend to get bored with it quickly. However, this book managed to keep my interest with all the different obstacles and villains faced. It was actually all quite a lot for one book, and I did find myself wishing for some quieter moments to get to know the characters even better. Instead the book imparted knowledge about the characters by way of information learned or revealed during their many tribulations, which was entertaining but lacked a depth of feeling. It seemed almost as if the author was afraid that readers would be bored if the characters weren’t doing something every single second.
Speaking of the characters, I ended up really liking each of them, which was not guaranteed based on my feelings at the beginning of the book. They all started out pretty one-dimensional, especially Aisha, but over the course of the novel, each of them developed into rather complex, three-dimensional people. All of the POV characters were weighed down by their trauma and losses, and each one had developed unique coping strategies to avoid dealing with their pasts (withdrawal from meaningful relationships, loyalty to a fault while being motivated by nothing but revenge, & literally fleeing from one’s life). The struggles they faced on their journey forced each one to confront their emotional baggage. Despite all the growth, I never really got the sense that this group of characters ever formed a cohesive unit. There was so much mistrust that I never really got the found family vibes I was expecting to eventually develop. All the secrets and reveals were interesting, but by the end of the book I wasn’t really shocked by them anymore and would have preferred more of them be revealed earlier on in the story. Some of the reveals just ended up seeming like afterthoughts. Although, maybe they will be more important to the next two books.
I only have a couple more thoughts… I promise. lol. I really think that adding a POV for Omar would have made this a 5-star read for me. It would have helped prevent all the major reveals from getting squished in at the end, and the story would have had an anchor showing what was going on in the capital instead of relying on finding out after the fact from brief asides. So much of the interesting political maneuvering happened “off screen,” and it all seemed to be in the effort of keeping those dang secrets until the very end. Backtracking a bit to all the things that happened over the course of the journey… it really was a bit too much when put together even though I loved reading each piece of it individually. There were times during the journey that I honestly questioned why the characters even cared about their objective anymore given the things they experienced and learned about on the way. I think removing one of the journey’s major obstacles and adding an Omar POV could have solved both of these “problems” for me. Although, at this point I really do feel like I’m being nit-picky because I did love this book.
All in all, this was an action-packed adventure with great prose, fast pacing, wonderful world-building, and a cast of characters I grew to love. Personally, I would have loved more quieter moments of relationship-building for the characters and an increased focus on Omar’s role in the story throughout. However, I’ll definitely be back for the next two books because I enjoyed this one a lot. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars!