The Stardust Thief (The Sandsea Trilogy #1) | Review
Rating - ⭐⭐⭐1/2
"Neither here nor there, but long ago…
Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.
With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality."
The Stardust Thief is the first novel in The Sandsea Trilogy, a new fantasy series by Chelsea Abdullah.
First and foremost, I would like to thank NetGalley and Orbit for giving me the opportunity to review this in advance. Please note that this in no way affects my opinions. Also note that what I read was an ARC, and things may be subject to change for the official release.
I was a bit nervous going into this because this book appears to be for fans of The City of Brass, which is a book that I DNF'D. I had a bit more success with this book as I ended up relatively enjoying myself. That being said though, this book is not without its faults.
Let's get into the details.
I didn't have too many issues getting through this as it was not an overly complex story and wasn't too dense either. That being said though, it did take me longer to get through this than an 800-page novel...
One thing I didn't enjoy visually about the book was the way it decided to depict the pages when a tale is being told. The page is greyed out and had a big blue title which frankly looked bad. This is one thing I hope is changed for the official release.
I also didn't think it was entirely necessary to have multiple perspectives, or at least three of them, but I will get to that more in the characters section.
Good news is that there is going to be a map, although the ARC only had a placeholder.
We start off the story with the tale of the Jinn, who are more or less the centerpiece of this story. I rather liked starting the story out this way because I am a bit fan of exposition straight out of the gate as I find that it helps establish the world for me. That is only some initial background information though, as the story is really about a trio of characters, plus another side character, who venture into the desert on behalf of the Sultan in search of a lost relic.
It is a bit awkward trying to talk about the plot because there is a crucial element of the story I want to talk about that, while it happens early on, is not mentioned in the synopsis and may be considered a spoiler. Overall though, while I did have issues with the plot which I will be discussing next, I rather enjoyed the journey I was taken on.
Moving right along, I had some issues with the pacing of the novel. The story took a bit of a detour away from the main plot for the majority of the book, and it took a while before it went back on track. It took so long in fact, and so much else was happening, that I even forgot what the main goal was. The plot was also rather cyclical with the same scenarios and outcomes kept happening over and over again. I also had an issue with distance and time, as I don't know how far they traveled and how long it took.
Finally, while I think that the book ended in a spot that helped set up what is to come, I also think that the book could have stopped at just over 300 pages. That is partly because it just felt like a good place to stop, partly because of the slow pace, and partly because there was also a chunk of the book that I think could have been taken out completely, as it didn't really add anything to the story.
It is nothing new or spectacular, but we've got Jinn. One thing this book has going for it is that it does establish the Jinn rather well. We learn more about them along the way after some initial conceptualization, and we also get the addition of the tales when appropriate. One thing I wasn't a big fan of when it came to the Jinn though, but this is just a pet peeve of mine, was that they relied on manipulation and possession. This bothered me not because of the lack of free will, but because it makes the characters completely incompetent.
One aspect of the world that I did like was the idea of relics. Maybe it is because of my focus in school, but any book that includes a treasure hunt sounds fantastic to me. I also liked the idea of the bag of infinite space, simply because I want something like that.
We have a decently sized cast in this book, but we mainly follow three characters who are also the perspectives we get - Loulie, Mazen, and Aisha. The characters fell a bit flat for me as I found myself not overly interested in them despite the author laying out the groundwork for them. There wasn't a lot of positive growth within this book with them which made them a bit stilted, so I hope that there is moving forward.
This was an issue for me because the characters were a bit naïve and were constantly got into trouble while not having the capabilities to get themselves out of it. It is a huge pet peeve of mine, having characters who can't take care of themselves.
Loulie, also known as the Midnight Merchant, is someone who sells Jinn relics. Her character admittedly frustrated me a bit. She said, repeatedly, that she was weak and, in all fairness, she kind of was. In every confrontation, she wasn't able to do anything and was rather useless. Now, there is nothing wrong with characters depicted like this, but as someone who likes OP characters, it bothered me.
Mazen is the son of the Sultan, and is therefore a prince, who has been shut in the palace ever since his mother was killed by a Jinn. Out of the three, I thought his character was the best, but I still had some issues with him. For one, he didn't make a lot of smart moves in this. Secondly, just like how Loulie constantly called herself weak, he called himself a coward and wasn't able to overcome it very well.
Aisha is a thief who works under Prince Omar, and her perspective was the one I could have done without. I don't think it gave me much that couldn't have been covered in the other perspectives. I also just wasn't the biggest fan of her character. While I didn't hate her, she was absolutely horrible at her job of being a bodyguard, and her morally grey actions and ideologies were questionable. She also didn't have much personality because she was single-mindedly focused on her goal.
I found the most interesting characters were the ones that were not depicted enough, those being Qadir, Omar, and Hakim. While they could have a bigger role in the rest of the series, I found that they were pushed to the side a bit, which was a missed opportunity for me as, again, they had a lot of promise.
Qadir, even though he was the most present out of the three, was not utilized enough and was just in the background unless Loulie needed to talk to him. Omar was a very intriguing character, and a smart one at that, and he definitely should have had more on-page presence. In fact, having his perspective instead of Aisha's would have more for a far better story for me. As for Hakim, he is barely in the book, but that is exactly why I want to see more of him because of how little we know about him.
Finally, I had an issue with the dynamics between the characters. The relationship between Loulie and Mazen, and Mazen and Aisha, felt a bit underdeveloped. Part of that is because of the direction the story goes in at the beginning, and partly because we don't really get to see the characters bond with each other much which was disappointing.
Now, I wanted to conclude on a positive note after having spent the entirety of this review talking about what didn't even despite my rating. This was a solid fantasy story. While again I had some issues with the plot and the characters and that the story dragged out and veered off the path, I did enjoy the journey the characters went on and the world the author built.
By the end, I was also left with the want to continue the series and see what happens next, which is always a good thing.