“…But our faith need not be so twisted.
Remember, Layla, not all jinn are evil.
Loulie had buried many things since her mother last told her that story.
Her name. Her past. Her parents.
But the story, she had never forgotten.” Chelsea Abdullah, The Stardust Thief
It would be hard for you to ever forget the astonishing debut novel by Chelsea Abdullah, The Stardust Thief. She has she has created a rich, sumptuous feast for the senses. A fantasy that immerses the reader in stunningly beautiful, bustling cities and deserts, magic and magical artefacts, characters that leap off the pages, political intrigue, and an action-filled quest to find an ancient magical lamp. Right from the start, The Stardust Thief draws the reader in with the Tale of the Djinn, which sets the stage for the rest of the fantasy, which is inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. I loved that The Stardust Thief is a Middle Eastern fantasy. It is a welcome and refreshing change from so many of the Euro-centric like cities that is the backdrop of many books in the genre. While this is a story of magic, Ms. Abdullah’s writing is sheer magic in itself. Her ability to paint such vivid cities and characters, takes the reader into this amazing tale and we never want to leave. As the story unfolds, it is interspersed with fables of The Lamp, Queen of the Dunes, and The Tale of Shafia, each told by one of the characters in the book. It completes the atmosphere Ms. Adbullah has created by weaving in the stories that are reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights. I highly recommend The Stardust Theif, one of the best fantasies I have read this year.
The characters were excellent and had wonderful arcs. Loulie al-Nazari, or the Midnight Merchant as she is called, and her jinn body guard, Qadir, are the two leading protagonists in the story. The chemistry between them is wonderful and palpable. She teases him and he teases her, all the while in his stoic manner, but Loulie can always catch the small smiles he makes. They have a close bond, and it is clear while he is her body guard, she is his as well, as she would do anything to keep him safe. In the city of Madinne where they live, magic is outlawed and the jinn are hunted. They are feared for their magical ability, and their silver blood is prized for bringing life. Loulie is a strong female protagonist. She’s smart, kind, and a survivor. She loves Qadir in what I felt was akin to fatherly, and worried that being a jinn he could be the next one hunted and killed. Loulie and Qadir trade in illegal magical artefacts in a place called the Night Market.
Prince Mazen is the Sultan of Madinne’s youngest son. He has a penchant for leaving the palace disguised as a regular citizen. He loves to see the people, the markets, and especially the story tellers. He is kind, but naïve. Mazen is appalled by the hunting and murdering of the jinn by his brother Omar. He has no weapons training; he simply wants to go where he wants and sees the palace as a gilded cage.
Prince Omar is the oldest of the Sultan’s son. He and his forty thieves (does this remind you of any other story?) hunt jinn in the city and the desert. Omar is free to roam, unlike Mazen. He is not particularly likeable. He is smart, crafty, deceitful, but worst of all is that he takes pride in the fact that he hunts and murders jinn. In his dealings with people, he is not kind, even to his brother. Omar will exploit weaknesses where he sees it.
Aisha rounds out the main characters. She is one of Omar’s best thieves. I can best describe her as aloof, proud, and very good at what she does, which is hunting with Omar. While I am not sure how she exactly feels about Omar and how he deals with people, she follows his orders without question. For Aisha, it’s her job, and she carries out her duties as such.
When the Night Market is raided, Loulie is brought before the Sultan. He orders her on a journey to find the magical lamp, said to imprison a jinn who must obey the owner of the lamp. It is a dangerous journey, and she must travel with Qadir, Omar and, Aisha. As the four set out, the journey is perilous and fraught with danger Loulie could never have imagined
The story is told in the third person narrative of Loulie, Mazen, and Aisha. Each had chapters that focused on them and their personal journey. This choice of narrative was perfect for The Stardust Thief. By having it told in this manner, Ms. Abdullah can give us insight into each character, rather than if told in the first-person narrative by a single character. I love getting to know each one, what they are truly thinking, and how they react to the situation they face. I also enjoy when written this way, as we get little cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. It always makes me eager to find out what has happened to the character when their “turn” comes again.
The pacing of the story was excellent. The characters and the quest are so engaging, there is never a time that the reader feels nothing is happening. The story moves forward with twists and turns you will never anticipate. You always want to know more, and it is a hard book to put down.
The city of Madinne where they live, comes to life the moment we see it. The description of the sultan’s palace of white with gold minarets, the colorful houses, the markets with vendors selling food, and colorful clothing makes us feel we are walking the streets with Loulie and Qadir. The Night Market comes alive even though it is underground, as the selling of magical artefacts is illegal. Loulie and Qadir sell their artefects there. It’s just as wonderful as Madinne. A sprawling, bustling market, lit with lanterns, alcoves with colorful gemstones, and stalls with merchants hawking their wares. The other places in the book are just as remarkable. The Sandsea, which is such a clever name for a desert, is just how it’s supposed to be. Endless sand, fraught with danger, and ways that can pull a person under.
A Thousand and One Nights are tales that were compiled over many centuries. In the Stardust Thief, Ms. Abudullah is like Scheherazade herself, a master storyteller who has created flawless and beautiful fantasy, The Stardust Thief, that we want to come back too time and again.
I loved the Middle Eastern world she has created. The characters were crafted so well, they felt like I knew them for years at the end of the book. Loulie’s exterior persona of the Midnight Merchant, a strong young woman who dangerously deals in magical artefacts, can hide her vulnerability. She is afraid to face her past, afraid for the safety of Qadir, and fears what this journey to find the lamp will bring. Qadir, despite being stoic, is so likeable as he takes care of Loulie, and will do anything to protect her. It was marvelous to have Mazen and Aisha to tell their stories as well. All of the characters have flaws and self-doubt. The prose is beautiful, creating worlds that are both gorgeous and frightening. I wanted to step into the world Ms. Abdullah created and marvel at the intricate detail, feeling like I was surrounded by this Middle Eastern fantasy. I cannot praise this book enough and it’s no wonder that I more than highly recommend it not just to fans of fantasy, but to all readers.
My thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a copy of The Stardust Theif
My thanks to NetGalley for providing me an eBook
Summary (from NetGalley)
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.
My thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a copy of the book
My thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eBook