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.
Today, I want to talk about Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim—a book that’s brimming with magic, family ties, and surprises.
I had been eagerly anticipating this book for a while, and let me tell you, it’s a brilliant start to the trilogy overall. The beautiful world-building and thrilling plot will capture the hearts of younger YA readers. But even if you’re on the older side of readers (like me), get ready to develop a soft spot for one of the main characters.
Spice Road introduces us to the hidden land of Qalia, a part of the Sahir where magic thrives with the help of misra tea. We experience the story through the eyes of Imani, a skilled duelist who is quite clueless about many things (although she’s making an effort to learn more about the world, and as she does, so does the reader).
Imani’s brother, Atheer, vanished and was presumed dead. However, their sister, Amari, never lost hope that he might still be alive, especially considering he had stolen some of the misra supplies beforehand. One day, they follow Atheer’s horse into dangerous territory and stumble upon Qayn, a djinni who claims he can help Imani find her brother.
Keeping Qayn a secret is crucial since Imani is technically supposed to have killed him. But circumstances force her to embark on a quest to find Atheer, accompanied by three others who aren’t exactly thrilled about her presence. Among them is Taha, a beastseer with a haunting past inflicted by his father. He’s arrogant, devoted to duty, and, to be honest, pretty mean. There were moments when I thought he might become more redeemable, but I kept finding myself firmly in Team Qayn’s camp when it came to my favorite character.
The world-building is nothing short of magical, and I absolutely loved the concept of Imani’s hidden home, protected by powerful magic. We encounter intriguing creatures, such as giants and other fantastical beasts. However, once the group ventures beyond the hidden Sahir, the narrative takes a slight turn, revealing that the true monsters are humans themselves. Personally, I found this shift quite engaging, as it opened Imani’s eyes to the complexities of the world.
What took a bit longer was Imani’s realization that Qayn was an absolute gem. No matter how much he helped her, she couldn’t see past the fact that he was a djinni. I understood where she was coming from—she had been conditioned to want to slay every djinni she encountered (earning herself the nickname ‘Djinni Slayer’ for her proficiency). But from his very first appearance, Qayn was a delight. When she wasn’t threatening to kill him, their chemistry was off the charts! I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about him throughout the story, and I’d devour a prequel that delves into Qayn’s backstory in a heartbeat.
In essence, Spice Road sets up the trilogy wonderfully and stands strong as a story in its own right. Younger YA readers will undoubtedly adore it from beginning to end. As for me, I’ll definitely be diving into the sequel because I became so invested in the growth of certain characters throughout the narrative. Plus, I need to find out what happens next!
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