This 336 page YA graphic novel set in a fictitious world draws on the authors’ Arab culture and creates relatability for universal readers everywhere. Themes of coming of age, war, family honor, discrimination, classism, deceit, and friendship, all interweaves with rich illustrations and warmth. With a few unnamed #muslimsintheillustrations the story shows a lot of heart and with some language, violence, death, and oppression would be best suited for 9th grade and up.
Aiza and her family belong to the Ornu tribe and are treated as second class citizens in the Bayt-Sajji Empire. With their traditional arm tattoos and seemingly more plentiful food, they are greatly disliked by the larger community and oppressed at every opportunity. Aiza dreams of joining the army, rising in ranks, earning citizenship for her family and changing their future. She also dreams of being a hero. When she finally convinces her family to allow her to enlist, they also encourage her to hide her identity, and just like that, she is off.
Once in training she is pushed to excel or risk being sent to the front lines. As she navigates new friendships, harsh instructors, and the shadowy General Hende, Aiza learns there is so much more to war and politicking than meets the eye. Her life, her loyalties, her understanding of the world will all be tested, as Aiza must decide which path is for her.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The text and illustrations are seamless in conveying a united story, I was a little nervous with two authors, and I like that the story has twists and multitudes. I loved seeing strong women in the military, as the authors’ say tough girls with swords. While reading it I was completely submerged in the story and the characters, but writing this review a few days later, I’ve largely forgotten the characters names and quirks. I’m not sure if it is because I read a digital version, or because the character building is a little lacking. I don’t know that I was emotionally invested in some of the major plot points because I was not seeing the struggles it was requiring of the character to endure. Admittedly I have not read a lot of fantasy graphic novels, so I don’t know that I have a lot to compare it to, but I do plan to read a physical copy when I can, and read follow up books in the series, to see if my impression changes.
Some language, bullying, oppression, violence, death, killing.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
There is nothing religious in the text, so I wouldn’t use it as a book club selection, but I would definitely shelve it in a school library, classroom, and keep it in mind for readers that love these kind of books.