It has been a long time since I have stopped reading a book because I simply do not want it to end. Clearly I have no self control, so a day later I picked it back up and finished the 496 pages, but oh what a treat to be swept away aboard a magnificent tale with rich history, Muslim characters, Islamic references, developed fantasy world building, complex side characters, excitement, plot, adventure, and everything else you would expect from the author of the Daevabad series. The book is an adult read, and I really can’t suggest it to YA readers, the protagonist is a middle aged mom with a foul mouth and a bad knee, there is cursing, and killing, hetero, gay and demon love interests among the main characters, a transgendered character, sex mentioned, drinking, and magic, it is all part of the story, but it isn’t so in your face that older mature Muslim readers will be uncomfortable. So why am I reviewing it here, I honestly don’t know. Clearly it is not to be shelved in the Islamic School Library, but there is so much authentic Islamic centering on every single page, that I want to give it space to remind/encourage us all that we don’t have to hide or water down our faith in mainstream books- not if the writing, story, and characters are so incredible. I really thought a historically set pirate fantasy would be hard to read, that the vocabulary and references would leave me lost and confused, but it is written so beautifully that the pages fly by and you forget you are reading; it is as if you are watching the story unfold in front of you. Please consider preordering this book so that publishers know support exists for authentic OWN voice Muslim character led books, I have an e-version, but have also preordered a physical hard back copy here.
It has been a decade since the infamous nakhuda Amina al Sirafi has taken to the Indian Ocean to plunder and sail. The stories of her have grown and traveled in her retirement, but life is now more about protecting her daughter and fixing her leaking roof. When her previous life finds her and threatens her, however, she must return to her Marawati, call on her old friends, and put together a crew. Told through a storyteller, with banter between Jamal and Amina, the fourth wall is broken and the reader knows that the hero will survive, yet the adventures of outsmarting Aden’s defenses, peris, demons, Franks, pirates, and marids to prevent the Moon of Saba from being manipulated is a fast paced chaotic adventure that pulls you in from the first page. The fairly linear story from one point of view (mostly), connects the haunting past to the trials at hand, as the crew and characters are understood through their captain. I don’t want to give anything away, but the side characters are nuanced and developed in a way that you feel just as close to them as Amina does, and as she becomes frantic to save them, the reader too is invested in their choices and actions. Pirate adventure, saving the day, a mom as a hero and a missing demon husband refound, yeah, don’t read summaries of this book, just read the book.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I was surprised at the religious redemption arcs and details that were included on truly every page, from the meaning of the translation of Ayat ul Kursi, to acknowledging past sins and striving to not repeat them, Amina al Sirafi practices her Islam in her five daily prayers, regular supplications, regular repentance, and view of the world and her place in it. She isn’t preachy, and much of what she faces tempts her to drink wine and fornicate again, but her struggles are really refreshing to see. It isn’t that she is Muslim and that is the framing for the al-ghayb elements alone, it is so part of her and thus of the book, that you can’t help but feel seen.
The gay character’s lover is mentioned, neither are Muslim, but it is only a few lines in the entire book. The transgendered character starts off uncomfortable with being forced to marry and hints that she doesn’t feel feminine, Amina pieces together what she is saying and then at the end it shows that she is now identifying and carrying herself as a man. It isn’t a big part of the text, it has a strong effect on the story and it does touch on God’s view of such things, as the character is Muslim. The demon love interest SLIGHT SPOILER is Amina’s husband that she thought she had killed, she has had a lot of husbands, but when he turns up alive, she realizes technically they are still married. He asks her quite often to have sex. It is usually is just that blunt with no romance or longing, and when they do partake in the act, it isn’t overly graphic, it is “closed door.” There is killing and murder and deceit and lying and drinking, all things assumed would be in a pirate story. None of it is overly glorified, but it is normalized.
I really just love the characters and the fast paced action, the book leaves off implying there will be more tales to come and I hope there are. (I keep writing what I love about the book and deleting it, because you know….spoilers, ahh).
As previously mentioned: cursing, sex, hetero and gay relationships, magic, fantasy, killing, murder, lying, drinking, drugs, jinn, peris, marids, fantasy, occult, demons, death, loss.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I would never do this for a school book club, but would do it in a heartbeat for an adult book club!