By: Trudy Skies
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Uproar Books, LLC
I received an ebook copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Story Tellers on Tour.
NOTE: This tends to be a little darker than some young adult fantasy. Please go to the author’s website to see warnings put up for the book. Every reader is different. The link to Ms. Skies website is below the review.
It took a little time for me to get into this book, but once I did, I really enjoyed it. Once the paced picked up, it fell into a great adventure from start to finish. There were very unique elements that makes it a refreshing addition to young adult fantasy series. I loved the Middle Eastern-like world of the book. It is a needed change to many fantasies that are set in what resembles old European cities and I think it adds diversity into the genre. The main protagonist is Mina, a well fleshed out sixteen-year-old. She is strong willed, smart, but at times does act rashly. Mina, who has fire magic, disguises herself as a boy so she can train to use a sword and become a warrior. She must go to great lengths to hide her outlawed fire magic. Ms. Skies tackles many issues in this book, including sexism, bullying, LBGTQ+ characters, and menstruation. These are topics that exist and in the realm of YA fantasy are important to include. This book has sword dancing, fire magic, blood bonds, duels and a Fennec Fox named Fez. How can you not love it?
Summary (from Goodreads)
Only monsters summon fire by magic. It’s a sin against the sun god and a crime against the king. The punishment is death.
But when sixteen-year-old Mina discovers fire magic runs in her family’s blood, it’s just the beginning of the secrets her father has been keeping from her. When her father is murdered, this half-starved peasant girl finds herself on the run—pursued across the desert by the soldiers and guards of the noble Houses. To survive, she knows she’ll have to abandon her past and learn the way of the sword. But only boys are allowed to carry a blade. There’s only one solution…
Disguised as a young nobleman, Mina must make a new life for herself in the heart of her enemies. But she knows she can’t keep up the masquerade forever. With time running out, which will she choose to find—the truth or revenge?
While this book is more character driven, the world in which it exists is essential to the story. From the poor section of the city of Khalbad that Mina grows up in, the small city of Arlent where she lives adopted by a nobleman, to the sprawling capital of Solus, this Middle Eastern-like nation of Sandair is brought to life vividly by the author. Most time is spent in Solus with its crowded markets and beautifully domed architecture. Many people of different cultures live there and the diversity only adds to the richness of the world. It was well written and described, bringing the reader into Mina’s world.
I will touch on a just a few of the main characters in the books. There are many that are woven into the story, but I felt these will give you an idea of how well rounded the characters are
Mina (or Tamina) is the main protagonist. In slums of Khalbad, Mina does what she needs to survive. The Kings Housemen, as they are called, are chasing her for stealing. Mina does not realize she has Fire Blood until she burns an oasis while being chased. It frightens her as those with fire magic are outlawed and can be punished by death. She is taken in and “adopted” by the Nobleman Talin. However, in order to fully escape, they help disguise her as a boy named Malik. Mina loves this for 2 reasons; she will not be caught and as a boy, can train with a sword to become a warrior. While this the trope of a female disguising herself as male has been done many times in literature, it works very well in this story. I never once thought it was derivative. The nobleman and his house help with her disguise and that makes it a unique part of the story. Mina is a well-rounded, fleshed out character. While she is smart, witty and a quick thinker, like all young people, she rushes into situations without fully understanding the consequences. She’s young and acts like it.
Talin is the Noblman who takes Mina in. There is a ceremony which binds all of the people in his house (his sister and his sorran) together in a blood bond. Through this bond, they can communicate and feel each other’s presence. He is kind to Mina and treats her as family since he has adopted her. They all help to keep her disguise as a male to protect her. He supports her training with a sword to become a warrior. Talin is a very likeable character, as he gentle, kind and caring. He loves Mina and you will find when you read the book how special the relationship is.
Jonan is Talin’s sorran. He is bound by blood to serve Talin until Talin releases him. He is not a slave and is not treated as such by Talin (although some sorrans are treated like slaves). Jonan fights beside Talin and protects him at all cost. It is clear he resents and does not trust Mina, but keeps her secret. Their relationship develops over time.
Iman is Talin’s half-sister. She is the first one who trains Mina. While she was never told Mina was a boy, she had figured it out on her own. Iman helps to keep her disguise and while gruff at the beginning, she fast becomes a loveable, warm character. She is important in keeping this disguise helping Mina when it comes to her monthly periods.
I enjoyed this young adult adventure. It has diversity of characters, which is so important for young readers. Having characters of color and characters from a Middle Eastern culture makes this an important story for not only young adult readers, but for the fantasy genre as a whole. Female characters disguised as boys appear throughout literature, but this was a refreshing take. Another point I found refreshing and bold, is dealing with Mina having her period while disguised as a boy. When I read about this element in other stories, I always wondered about it. This is dealt with head on in a realistic way as Iman shows Mina what to do. Addressing it makes her disguise more believable.
I loved the sword fighting details, which were excellent. The blood fire is a unique magic and adds an element of excitement to the story. As Mina starts her new life, we see her grow as a character and learn that there are consequences to some of her bold and rash actions. I love well fleshed out characters that learn, change and grow. I highly recommend this book to young adult readers who love fantasy. It is a great, evenly paced adventure from start to finish. I look forward to reading the next installment of Mina’s story.
Find out more about Sand Dancer and Trudie Skies on her website: https://trudieskies.com/
My thanks to Storytellers on Tour for an eBook in exchange for an honest review
You can purchase Sand Dancer on Amazon