Book Review

Spice Road

Spice Road

  • Author: Maiya Ibrahim
  • Genre: YA Fantasy
  • Publication Date: January 24, 2023
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
  • Series: The Spice Road Trilogy #1

Thank you to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: grief, mention of suicide, mention of death of a parent, violence, blood, death of an animal, torture, gore, murder

The first book in an epic fantasy series for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Hafsah Faizal and Elizabeth Lim, set in an Arabian-inspired land. Raised to protect her nation from the monsters lurking in the sands, seventeen-year-old Imani must fight to find her brother whose betrayal is now their greatest threat.

In the hidden desert city of Qalia, secret spice magic awakens affinities in those who drink the misra tea. With an affinity for iron, seventeen-year-old Imani wields a dagger like no other warrior, garnering her the reputation as the next greatest Shield for battling the dangerous djinn, ghouls, and other monsters that lurk in the sands beyond city limits.

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother who tarnished the family name after he was discovered stealing their nation’s coveted spice – a tell-tale sign of magical obsession. He disappeared soon after, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes, and leaving Imani reeling with both betrayal and grief.

But when Imani uncovers evidence her brother may be alive and spreading their nation’s magic beyond the desert, she strikes a deal with the Council to find him and bring him back to Qalia before he can reveal the city’s location. Accompanied by Qayn, a roguish but handsome djinni, and Taha, a powerful beastseer whose magical talents are matched only by his arrogance, they set out on their mission.

Imani will soon discover there are many secrets that lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes – and in her own heart – but will she find her brother before his betrayals endanger the fate of all of Qalia?

In this epic and action-packed fantasy, one young heroine navigates the treacherous road between protecting the ones you love and staying loyal to the place you call home.

The premise of the story was what drew me in initially, and the idea of an Arabian-inspired setting full of spice magic and a fierce heroine sounded too good to pass up on, especially if it was done well. Turns out, it was even better than I had expected, and what makes it more impressive is that this is Ibrahim’s debut novel.

To start with, the writing itself absolutely blew me away. Ibrahim offers such vivid descriptions that it felt as though I was right next to the characters, while writing in a beautiful and lyrical style. She paints such a realistic picture of the setting that I could see it easily, with the sands of the desert, date palms, minarets, and beautiful architecture of Qalia and other locations that the characters visit. The world-building is wonderful: the magic system is well-explained, as well as the belief system and history of the people in the story.

I loved Imani from the start. She’s fierce and tough, while also being sensitive and devoted to her family and her career. The loss of her brother has hit her hard, but it’s also increased her dedication to being the best Shield that she can be, and she also takes her responsibility as a big sister quite seriously, even though her younger sister makes it difficult. Imani is a flawed character, and is relatively rigid and headstrong, but that just gives her more room to grow. And we do see a lot of growth in her throughout the story, especially as her worldview changes when she learns new things during her travels. 

There’s a lot of action and some huge plot twists in the story, although some of them were a bit predictable. Imani is a sheltered, privileged, and somewhat naïve character, although I can’t really hold that against her. It isn’t her fault, and I enjoyed seeing how she reacted when she was challenged and presented with new information. She’s stubborn, which isn’t always a good thing, but she was open to learning, and that’s a difficult combination. It was a fascinating read, and I found myself flying through this read.

In addition, there’s a lot of romantic tension in the story. Amidst the search for Imani’s brother, there is a slow-burn enemies to lovers subplot, and while I enjoyed the tension, I wasn’t quite sure if I trusted the man and didn’t know how I felt about the pairing. Ultimately, I loved how things worked out, and while things didn’t quite tie up neatly, it left things open to be followed up on in the next book, which I’m dying to get my hands on, despite the fact that it probably hasn’t even been written yet

Ultimately, this is an incredible debut, and I highly recommend it. It’s a fast-paced read featuring a fierce female character battling a strong and cocky male character for dominance, and I loved every moment of it. There’s magic, Arabian-inspired settings and folklore, gorgeous and lush writing, enemies to lovers tension throughout the story, mystery, action, and a plot that kept me hooked from start to finish. This is one not to miss, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store from Ibrahim. 

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: 8

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