The Stardust Thief
- Author: Chelsea Abdullah
- Genre: Fantasy
- Publication Date: May 17, 2022
- Series: The Sandsea Trilogy #1
Thank you to Orbit, Angela Man, and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book (and audiobook) in exchange for an honest opinion.
CONTENT WARNING: blood, death of a parent, violence, torture, gore, grief
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 and one of his infamous forty thieves 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 Louie’s past.
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.
Now she must decide who she will become.
This book is an absolute stunner of a debut, and I’m so grateful to the publisher for sending me a gorgeous hardcover copy of it. It’s been calling to me from my shelves for more than a week, and I couldn’t wait to get started. And then once I started reading? I couldn’t stop. Like, to the point where I also got the audiobook ARC so that I’d be able to continue reading when I was doing something else that normally prevents me from reading. You know, like driving.
Abdullah has taken some of the more well-known Arabian fairy tales, like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Scheherazade, and combined them in a new and fantastic way. The story takes place in an Arabian-inspired fantasy world, where jinn and humans interact, but there are tensions. Arabic terms are sprinkled throughout the text, but they’re easy enough to figure out from context. The world-building is fabulous, with such descriptive and flowing writing that I didn’t even realize how fast I was reading, and settings that I could actually picture in my mind.
The story centers around three very different characters—Loulie, a merchant of illegal magical relics; Mazen, the sultan’s pacifist cinnamon-roll son; and Aisha, one of Mazen’s brother’s forty thieves and killer of jinn. I quickly grew enamored of the characters, mostly, although there are a few villains that I absolutely loved to hate! Abdullah writes characters that feel realistic, even amidst the most fantastical world. And since I listened to part of this as an audiobook, I have to discuss how great the three narrators were! There was one for each POV character, with Nikki Massoud, Sean Rohani, and Rasha Zamamiri bringing each character to life in different, but no less relatable ways.
Each of the characters have been formed by loss and tragedy in their early lives, but have learned to cope with it in different ways. Loulie closes herself off, forming a close bond only with her jinn bodyguard, Qadir. She’s smart, crafty, and above all, striving towards being independent and able to protect herself, after losing everyone she ever loved.
“All these years she’d been trying to distance herself from her past failures. Layla had been too young and helpless to save everyone she loved. So as Loulie, she’d vowed to become stronger, wiser. Someone who, unbeholden to anyone, would be able to rescue herself without worrying about losing others.”
Qadir isn’t a POV character, but he was probably one of the most intriguing ones. Maybe partly because I couldn’t get into his head, but maybe also because he’s like an onion: lots of layers. He doesn’t disclose much, and he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in the story, but his character caught me up in the story. He’s full of secrets, and we get to know a few of them in this story, but I’m definitely hoping to get to know him better in the next story.
“Qadir was made up of small secrets—they both were. So long as his secrets didn’t harm her, Loulie was content to let him keep them.”
Mazen, the sultan’s son, is a dreamer, content to listen to and tell stories, and explore the world outside of his gilded cage. He isn’t the typical son of a sultan that I would have expected, and when he’s taken on this life-changing journey, I loved to see how it changed him. The story delves into his deepest fears, and the whole time, I found myself hoping that he’d overcome them and grow.
“He did not tell his brother that on this journey, he would be useless as himself. And that, deep down, he’d begun to fear this would always be the case.”
Finally, Aisha, the other POV character, works with Mazen’s brother, as a thief and a killer of jinn. She wasn’t always the most likable character, but her POV gives us insight into her own experiences and how they have set her on the path to become who she is. I especially loved that she changed a lot over the course of the story, and was really challenged to think outside of her deeply-held beliefs and change them.
“Aisha did not mourn the past, and she did not overthink the future. But the present—that was something she could shape for the better with her blade. And she would not run from it.”
This story was absolutely fabulous. It’s fast-paced, absolutely packed with action, and kept sneaking up on me with plot twists I never saw coming. The writing completely transported me to a magical world where humans and jinn live together, if not peacefully, as well as discussing loss and grief, and the difficult family dynamics that affect all of us, even those in positions of power. Even though this hasn’t dropped yet, I’m already on the edge of my seat for the sequel, since it left off on a major cliffhanger, yet I never felt cheated. I am fully hooked on this series, and already know that Chelsea Abdullah is a new author that stormed onto my radar and earned all the hype about this book.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 11
Categories: Book Review