Sunday, March 20, 2022

Review: THE STARDUST THIEF by Chelsea Abdullah


Rating: 4.75/5 stars

The Stardust Thief is a fantastical character-driven story of adventure across a sea of shifting sands on an impossible journey to find an ancient relic in a hidden jinn city. 

Loulie is the Midnight Merchant, known for procuring rare magical relics that she illegally sells in the Night Market. When the sultan hears of her and her abilities after she saves the life of his son, he summons her to the palace to blackmail her into going on a quest for him if she wants to keep her life: find an ancient lamp that houses a jinn king inside, buried thousands of years ago somewhere in the vast Sandsea. Accompanied by her jinn bodyguard, the best thief in Madinne, and one of the sultan’s sons, Loulie sets out into the desert to find the magical relic, which she knows will have deadly repercussions for jinn everywhere if it ends up in the hands of the sultan. 

I absolutely loved this book! I have been excited to read it for months ever since I saw the stunningly gorgeous cover design, and it did not disappoint. 

The Stardust Thief feels similar to The City of Brass while still being entirely its own story. I love that. Readers who loved that series need to read The Sandsea Trilogy next. The Daevabad Trilogy was incredible, and I’m so excited to find something similar—an Arabian fantasy about deserts, magic, jinn, and politics. I might even like The Stardust Thief more though… 

This book was very easy to read and become immersed in. I feel like I flew through it, which is not normally the feeling I have while reading a long adult epic fantasy. I loved Chelsea Abdullah’s writing style, and it was very easy to get lost in these pages. It also helped that this book had very short chapters, which is always a good thing in my eyes. 

I loved every character. Loulie is cunning and smart and strong. Mazen is delicate and precious and definitely my favorite character. Qadir is mysterious and safe. Aisha is hard-hearted and severe but I still liked her determination and resilience. Ahmed is charming and happy. Even Omar has his good moments too. 

One thing that I didn’t really understand, however, is why the jinn killers are also so interested in jinn relics. They want the magical artifacts imbued with jinn magic, but the jinn can’t make them if they’re dead, and the killers’ goal is to slay every jinn. So that didn’t really make sense to me. I get that it’s about being powerful, but you have to keep some jinn alive so they can create more relics. 

The Stardust Thief is full of unexpected plot events. I wouldn’t necessarily say plot twists because I believe a plot twist is when you expect the plot to go in one direction but then it suddenly “twists” and goes this other direction. This book is more along the lines of you have no idea what will happen next, so when the plot progresses you’re surprised because you never would have guessed that the characters would end up here or do this thing because it’s an unconventional outcome, but you roll with it anyway. So many things happened in this book besides what the synopsis on the cover alludes to, and I liked that because it made the story feel like it had more depth. 

My only real complaint is that the last fifty or so pages had a lot of reveals in them that weren’t fully explained because the plot was moving along so quickly, and I’m not sure if I fully understand everything that happened or the implications of it all. The main characters would have these revelations of knowledge, but they wouldn’t outright say what they figured out, and it made me feel dumb because I wasn’t catching on. Sometimes the “obvious” things were not as obvious as they seemed. Other than that though, I have no complaints about this book. It was so very good. 

“The only difference between a hero and a coward is that one forgets their fear and fights, while the other succumb to it and flees.”

I’ve recently discovered that I love Arab fantasies. Give me more of them. I appreciated that the Arabic words in this book were used in a way that the reader could intuit their meaning. Including them made the story feel genuine, but I’m also grateful I didn’t have to stop to define every new word because Chelsea Abdullah used them organically. 

Overall, The Stardust Thief was phenomenal! It is a story for lovers of stories and adventures. Mini tales are dispersed throughout the novel, and I loved seeing how they were woven into the story after they appeared. I am so excited I got to read this book early, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy because I know I am going to love it. Any fantasy fan out there has to pick this one up.  

Thank you to Orbit for sending me an early copy for review. 

Character List & Glossary 
(I made a spoiler-free list to reference when I continue the series so I don’t forget who’s who.) 

Ahmed bin Walid, wali (leader) of the city Dhyme, old friend of Loulie’s, always happy and smiling

Aisha bint Louas, one of Omar’s best and most honest thieves, hates men

Dhahab, the lost jinn city of legend, located in the Sandsea

Dahlia bint Adnan, the tavernkeeper who owns the tavern where Loulie resides

Hakim, the sultan’s bastard second son, mapmaker, 25

Ifrit, powerful beings of fire feared by other jinn, capable of learning multiple types of magic, the seven jinn kings 

Imad, the Hunter in Black, jinn killer, one of the sultan’s original forty thieves 

Loulie Najima al-Nazari, the Midnight Merchant, relic seller, birth name and alias is Layla, 20

Mazen bin Malik, the sultan’s third son, sheltered in the palace, a storyteller who yearns for adventure, 22

Omar bin Malik, the sultan’s firstborn son, King of the Forty Thieves, killer of jinn 

Qadir, Loulie’s jinn friend and bodyguard, can transform from a man into a lizard, has an affinity for fire magic 

Rasul al-Jasheen, the One-Eyed Merchant who is one-eyed no longer after Loulie sold him jinn blood that he used to heal his eye 

Safiya, the sultan’s deceased wife, storyteller, Mazen’s mother

Tawil, a thief who works for Omar 

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