Monday, October 9, 2023

All Things Halloween Review of Spice Road

Spice Road (The Spice Road Trilogy, # 1)

By: Maiya Ibrahim

Publication: January 24th 2023 by Hodder & Stoughton

411 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Source: Publisher via NetGalley (Thank you!!)

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Goodreads description--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.

Have you ever read a book description and been excited but yet torn about it? It sounds like you might like it, but there's also something holding you back? I've not read a lot of Arabian-inspired books, but I'm torn on the ones that I have. One series, I loved. Another was mediocre at best. I don't love but don't hate love triangles. And so I guess I just wasn't sure if I would love Spice Road. I decided to request it, but as time went by from getting approved for it, I never felt like it was the right time to read it. And the more time went by the more I wondered if I made a mistake by requesting this book. That being said, I feel like there's a lot to cover here.

The basics of this world is that Qalia exists at the end of the Spice Road and has basically been forgotten by the outside world. There's an area of the dessert that blocks it from the rest of the world. And this area is supernaturally charged to keep Qalians in and foreigners out. The people of Qalia have been given this special spice called mishra (sp?) by the Great Spirit. And they are charged with killing monsters and protecting the secret of mishra from the rest of the world as well as Qalia itself. There's a council and different magical abilities. The main ones that were mentioned are beastseers (those who share their minds with an animal), those who have an affinity for the elements (earth, water, iron, etc), and skinwalkers I believe who can change form into other animals.

I liked the opening line "We will fight, but first we will have tea." Mishra is consumed by being ground into a powder and made into tea and then drunk. The magic seems to stay in one's system for a single day before it is exhausted and the body is magicless.

Imani's brother, Atheer, was originally a Shield, turned Scout, and then seemingly overconsumed the mishra and is assumed to be dead. Imani and her family have mourned him. They've even had a funeral. But to Imani, it just doesn't make sense. Imani and her sister, Amira, find evidence that Atheer isn't dead. Evidence shows that he fell in love with an outsider on a scouting mission and has shared his knowledge of magic with her as well as joined her cause in rebellion to a hostile takeover of her nation. Imani doesn't agree with Atheer's choices, but she believes he must be brought back home. She believes she can convince him to come.

Imani is a flawed character. She is privileged and doesn't even realize it. Apparently, there's an entire side of Qalia that she doesn't know about. She happens to have come from one of the most prestigious clans. And she can't understand why Taha from a lesser clan hasn't paid her the time of day. He's never even acknowledged her. His father has secured the place of leader of Qalia, but Imani believes it was by force. Imani and Taha have lived such different lives and their outlook on the world and their mission to retrieve Atheer varies greatly. Yet there's something between them. A tension. A few moments shared that hint to the possibility of more.

Despite Imani questioning her brother's actions, she is determined to find him at nearly any cost. And she binds herself to a Djinn who claims to have known Atheers last whereabouts. Djinni are considered monsters and Imani should just kill him, but she can't risk losing whatever information he might have about her brother. Qayn makes up the third piece of the love triangle. Imani doesn't know if she can trust him. All djinn lie. He has a soullessness to his eyes. And he won't open himself up to her, yet his information and help proves true time and time again.

I feel like I should spend some time talking about the side characters, but this review is already getting a little lengthy and I've got some other details I want to discuss, so I'll pass on detailed information about the cast. I will say that some tidbits didn't seem to add up to me. If outsiders aren't able to wield magic, how does Friada have an affinity for water? How the languages work? It was mentioned that Qalia's language is close to that of the foreigners, but even with some differences, it would have been noticeable that Imani and her crew were speaking differently. Yet it seems like only the Harrowlanders speak in a much different language. I just don't feel like these areas were fleshed out well enough. Also the social class differences of Qalia was not spelled out all that well. Maybe this will be revealed more in the books to come?

Favorite quotes:

-"Yes, Bright Blade, for light not shared is light diminished."

-"We endeavor to shape the world, Imani. But now and again, the world succeeds in shaping us."

-"Words are mightier than both the sword and the flask of tea."

-"With magic comes monsters in the Sahir. Here, with riches comes thieves."

-Curse my fortune that has put me in the company of people who only want the things I don't.

-"The future is not final until we reach it."

-"Not all who are bad are bad the whole way through."

I am glad that I finally read Spice Road. It did have a slow start for me, and I wondered for a bit if I would ever get invested in the story. There were moments when I skimmed some of the descriptions of things that didn't have dialogue or parts of the story moving forward. In the end, I really wanted to know how things were going to turn out. I will definitely be checking out the next book in the series. At the same time, I had a few questions about things that didn't feel fully explored or explained. So for me, Spice Road gets 3.5 Stars. Have you read Spice Road? What did you think? Let me know!

This review is part of my All Things Halloween event--a month of fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, mystery/thriller, etc reviews and books.

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