Review: A Master of Djinn

Review: A Master of Djinn

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

When a wealthy businessman and his secret brotherhood are all slaughtered in the dead of night, it is up to Fatma el-Sha’arawi, an agent for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, to discover the truth. What she doesn’t expect is that the murderer is claiming he is Al-Jahiz, the very man who opened up the veil between the seen and the unseen almost 50 years ago. Al-Jahiz is announcing his return to condemn the modern era for its lack of social decency. His dangerous abilities threaten to disrupt the peace between the humans and djinns. With the help of her mysterious girlfriend, Siti, and her Ministry colleagues, they must work together to prevent this imposter from moving to global devastation.

I had read P. Djèlí Clark’s short fiction piece in preparation for A Master of Djinn. You can read it for free here! The events, in short, are mentioned briefly in A Master of Djinn and do not need to be read to understand the plot.  I had found the original short piece fun and exciting, definitely interested in what this steampunk Cairo had to offer. But I had not expected A Master of Djinn to blow me away in the way that it did. Do not be surprised when this book takes its rightful spot in my Best Read of 2021 list later this year. 

We start off with Lord Worthington, who brings together his Brotherhood of Al-Jahiz, a select group of men who are tasked with uncovering the wisdom of Al-Jahiz. Over the years, they have collected everything from clothing to papers that the man might have touched. That is a mysterious man who can seemingly duplicate himself slays them all in the middle of the night, and Agent Fatma might be one of the few people who can figure out why. Fatma’s journey takes her into the depth of Cairo, from the towering Ministry building that houses a librarian Djinn, who never seems to be interested in her, to the streets where humans and djinn live together. It has been a long time since a book has enthralled me in this way. The conflict, climax and resolution all fell into place and were executed with such detail and power. A unique, exciting tale about an agent who is not paid enough to deal with the drama of djinns. 

Agent Fatma is our brilliant lead. She is one of the few female Agents at the Ministry and is a lone wolf who prefers to work silently and, most importantly, alone. While she does enlist the help of her girlfriend, Siti, Fatma knows her best work comes alone.  So imagine her surprise when she’s knee-deep in a murder investigation; here comes Agent Hadia, her new partner. She immediately does her best to push away the new Agent, adamant that Fatma takes her under her wings, even as doing far to reject working alongside the most profiled agents at the Ministry. I loved Hadia; she is by far my favourite character in the series already. Hadia is fresh off the academy and ready to save the world. Her knowledge aids Fatma in places she never knew, and her story about her never-ending list of cousins had me laughing for days. Their relationship is an excellent mentor/mentee bond, and their development is satisfying as hell as they both navigate their male-dominated workplace.

Overall, I adored this one. A Master of Djinn is set in an alternate 1920s Cairo. After Al-Jahiz opened the veil and vanished and with the aid of the Djinns, Egypt forced out the British colonisers and re-established themselves as a world power. Clark’s worldbuilding is vibrant and magnificent. The magical setting with political and social issues while also figuring out a murder mystery was top-notch and a journey to read. And with a satisfying conclusion that paves the way for more exciting stories.


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Review: The Unbroken

Review: The Unbroken

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Stolen and raised as a soldier for an empire that will see her people dead, Touraine and her company have been sent back to their motherland to squash a rebellion before it can take flight. Princess Luca needs a spy and Touraine is the perfect match. Disconnected enough from her people to betray them and loyal enough to tiptoe the line between treason and order. Someone who can dirty their hands while she works to remove her uncle from her throne. Even if it means betraying the very foundation of Balladaire. However, Touraine finds herself questioning her decisions and is forced to betray everyone she loves to protect them all. Who will survive in the end, the soldier or the spy?

The Unbroken truly broke through one of the worst book slumps I’ve ever had in my life. A passionate and powerful debut about a soldier who must find out who she truly is before it is too late. A political fantasy novel that takes you on a slow burn of a journey with an ending that rewards its reader with a satisfying promise of what’s to come. Touraine and Luca are complex and so is the system around them, the novel set in a fully fleshed out world that has been so severely affected by the actions of the colonising state of Balladaire. The first half of the book takes its time but the end result is worthwhile. 

The Unbroken takes place entirely in Qazāl, a country colonised by Balladaire and on the cusp of rebellion. Luca hopes to quell the dissent as proof of her right to rule and to uncover the magic within the land to save her people back home. Touraine doesn’t know what to think. She keeps her head down, hoping to one day gain the favour and respect of the commanders before her. But returning to Qazāl gives her the wake-up call she truly needed. After a false accusation, Touraine finds herself ripped of her hard-earned status and saved by the grace of Princess Luca in exchange for a much perilous role. We navigate the diplomacy and political landscape through the lens of Touraine, a soldier with no “home”.

Thematically, The Unbroken hides no secrets about the core message. The series is undoubtedly about empire rule and the lingering effects of colonialism on the people left behind. Initially, Touraine recoils at the memory of her people, the Qazāli, determined to prove to them that the so-called aid that Luca and her diplomats bring can elevate their status. But it is the emotion and experience of the people left behind that reminds her that the machine behind Luca does not care about their well-being and she is stripped bare of her complacency and the identity she had worked so hard to build and survive her environment. Luca might give Touraine everything she needs, but Touraine must decide where she stands or risk losing everything. 

As the dust settles and they are all left tending to the wounds of colonial violence, The Unbroken is a journey on its own, but Touraine’s story is far from over. I adore this book and would definitely recommend to any reader who really wants to sink their teeth into a gritty military-political fantasy that deep-dives into the nuances of imperialism from a multitude of perspectives.


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Review: The Mismatch

Review: The Mismatch

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

*note: this review is not spoiler-free*

Newly graduated Soraya struggles to balance her family’s expectations and her own, feeling unaccomplished in her young adult life. The idea that she hasn’t been kissed at twenty-one bothers her, so fixing that means everything else should work out. When she decides to make it a reality, Magnus Evans is the answer. Magnus is everything her Muslim parents would disapprove of in a man. Someone she could never see herself with, but this mismatch might be a perfect choice. The longer she gets to know Magnus, the less sure she becomes in her decision to pull away. 

The Mismatch was a tricky book for me. Personally, I resonated a lot with Soraya; her trauma and emotions when it came to handling her culture and family felt almost similar to mine. This story is less about the romance, as suggested by the synopsis, and more about her coming to face her Muslim guilt while juggling her culture’s sexist ideas. I won’t lie; I felt like I saw red for much of the scenes because it felt a bit too real. Soraya’s brother is allowed to do whatever without any consequences, while Soraya and her sister quite literally have to fear for their lives to do even do a slither of what he’s able to do. Soraya’s father is abusive and terrible, and the story does a great show of exploring the nuances and how the effects of it resonate throughout the family. 

Soraya’s story is not the only one told here. Chapters changed between Soraya and her mother, Neda, whose story pans from her university days in Tehran to her immigration journey to the UK. The real strength in this novel runs in the parallel between Soraya and Neda and their family. Neda is barely out of university, working towards her Masters when she decides to move to the UK with her husband, and they both struggle to adapt to their new life. Soraya’s guilt is rooted in the belief that she is disappointing her mother, who goes through absolute hell, from adapting to a new home to slowly losing her husband to drug addiction. 

For a contemporary romance novel, the romance novel was the least of my interest in this story, which is rather strange. Magnus Evans is rather frustrating to the point where I had lost interest in rooting for them to be together. The miscommunication which drives them apart was rather unforgivable, in my opinion. (Spoilers: Soraya discovers that Magnus’s friends began to hold a bet to see how long it would take for him to sleep with Soraya. While Magnus is against the bet, he doesn’t really do much to curry favour because he lets his friends be terrible behind her back. And then dares to compare the bet to Soraya’s plan to make him her first kiss when he is aware of the trauma surrounding why Soraya is scared to be intimate. And not to mention, HE read her journal and then told other people what was in it.) I just wanted to grab Soraya by the shoulders and tell her this white man was NOT worth it. 

In the end, The Mismatch wasn’t disappointing, and I enjoyed reading it a lot. However, I wasn’t exactly satisfied with some plot choices. Certain characters weren’t fleshed out enough, almost forgettable, and the romance is sorely disappointing. But the rest of the story that charts Soraya’s family and her desire for fulfilment was hopeful, and I can see this book resonating with other readers; it just missed the mark for me.

Review: Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating

Review: Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

When her friends question her bisexuality, in a panicked state, Hani Khan tells them she is dating someone: overachiever Ishu Dey who is the complete opposite of Hani. But Ishu agrees to help on the condition that Hani would help her become Head Girl in hopes of convincing her parents she will not become like her sister. The guide made and rules set down; all they need to do is last a couple of weeks. As the weeks go on, Ishu can’t understand why Hani allows her friends to mistreat her. Hani can’t understand why Ishu won’t trust her older sister. But when they really start falling for each other, things get messy, and rules are broken. 

I was not the biggest fan of Jaigirdar’s The Henna Wars, so I went into Hani and Ishu’s story quite hesitant, but I can definitely say my expectations exceeded a lot. Jaigirdar has improved a lot, and it shows in Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating because this was such an adorable read! 

Hani and Ishu take the fake dating trope and gives it a fun, refreshing (and desi) twist. Despite being out to her parents, her friends give her trouble when Hani decides to finally come out as bisexual to them. She already struggles to explain her religious and cultural background to them, so they aren’t too supportive when it comes to her sexuality. There she decides to blurt out that Ishu Dey is her girlfriend. Coming from similar backgrounds (They are both desi, Hani is Bangladeshi, and Ishu is Indian), Hani soon convinces them it’s real; now she just needs Ishu to get on board. Ishu Dey is top in her classes, low on the social pecking order. When her sister returns home and shatters their parent’s expectations, she is desperate to not look like a failure under their eyes. And dating Hani gives her the attention she needs to boost her social standing. 

I loved how wholesome this story was. Hani and Ishu are trainwrecks in the best way possible. They appear incompatible, but Hani helps Ishu open up in ways that she never thought was possible after spending some time together. Even telling her why she feels like the need to compete with her older sister. Ishu opens Hani’s eyes to the way she’s been mistreated by her friends and begins to make her realise that she doesn’t need to hide parts of herself, her religion and culture because they chose to not listen. Her friends will frustrate, but it’s so natural for a lot of young Muslim teens.

Overall, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating was a fantastic read. So wholesome and highly entertaining! A story of two girls discovering themselves and becoming more comfortable in their own skin. A great quick read for young teen readers!


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Review: The Descent of the Drowned

Review: The Descent of the Drowned

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Raised as a vessel for the goddess Lamia, Roma finds herself questioning the path set out for her and must fight for survival without condemning her fellow sisters. Leviathan, the bastard son of an immortal tyrant, was raised to kill in his father’s name. But they both cannot run from their past forever as they find themselves inexplicably linked as the tyrant’s search for power threatens the world as they know it. 

When finishing The Descent of the Drowned, my first thought was the books’ blurb really does not do this book justice. The catalyst event that the blurb suggests (Roma’s brother being sold) does not occur until well over the story’s halfway mark, which may confuse some readers. The story does take some time to take off truly. That being said, I still really enjoyed this book. Lal Din paints a brutal world. This book is hefty in terms of the story, touching upon rape, suicide and human trafficking. (see Halla’s content warnings for more) The story highlights the caste system, abuse of the trans community, ethnic cleansing and colonisation. And Roma is just one of many women suffering under its harrowing grip. 

The Descent’s story is split between Roma and Leviathan (Levi) as their paths slowly converge together. Roma is counting down the days until she is given to another male patron. Her last time being a few years prior, which resulted in her harming herself. She finds herself questioning her position and whether her spot is truly divine given or not. But when everyone around her is adamant in their belief, she must be careful where she treads or risk endangering her temple sisters and brother’s lives. Levi was raised a killer but found himself struggling to forget his past when most of the blood he sheds are members of his mother’s clan. He tries his best to help, but the persecuted clan wants nothing to do with him. When a rescue plot turns awry, Levi finds himself chasing up on the elusive White Wolves, an opposition group working towards taking down Levi’s father.  

It takes some time for the two to meet. I found it fun reading their perspectives because it felt like reading two different stories, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. Roma’s story highlights the lives of the oppressed and casteless. At the same time, Levi’s strengthens the worldbuilding beyond what Roma is never allowed to see. I, personally, preferred Roma’s side of the story, partly because it had taken me some time to warm up to Levi. Roma grows more in the story in a consistent way, while Levi takes some time to appreciate. He’s not a bad character; he just makes some decision that I didn’t agree with that soured my opinion of him. 

What I loved the most about their story is each protagonist’s respective group. Levi has his own brothers-in-arm. As mentioned, Levi does not make good decisions, deeply affected by his past trauma, but his friends, Junho and Malev, will do anything to help reel him back in. Roma’s side consists mainly of her temple sisters. Despite her conflicting opinion, Roma truly cares for her sisters. Her actions are rooted in making sure they face the least amount of harm, but she can’t stay silent forever, and one wrong move puts her entire family at risk. I personally found the story very slow, but the characters make up for it in abundance. 

Inspired by Pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, The Descent of the Drowned is a thrilling yet terrifying read. Roma’s journey is powerful and heartbreaking. If anything, the story ends too soon, with its worldbuilding taking up most of the page. Regardless, I’ll anticipate its sequel because this story feels like the stepping stone to something extremely remarkable. 


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Review: The Jasmine Throne

Review: The Jasmine Throne

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Princess Malini finds herself banished to the Hirana, a once-powerful temple, now a decaying ruin after refusing to bow down to her dictator brother. With each passing day, she grows sick, waiting for the opportunity to be free finally. When Priya agrees to be one of the very few who make the treacherous journey to and from the Hirana to attend to Malini, she doesn’t anticipate revealing the secret and power she holds to her own enemy. And the two must work together for any chance for freedom or lose everything that is dear to them. 

The Jasmine Throne blew my expectations out of the water. Such a powerful and sweeping read. While I had some difficulty settling into its fantasy world, it more than makes up for it with its thrilling plot and impeccable characters. Suri writes with a desirable writing style that makes every dialogue and emotion come off the page. 

The characters in this are incredible. I loved how truly complex they all are. Malini, a princess turned prisoner, is slowly being poisoned to fit her brother’s plan. But her influence still lingers, and she must escape before it’s too late. Priya wants nothing but to save her people from genocide, and when she returns to the Hirana, the temple where she was born and raised, she feels the magic within her awaken. But when her powers turn her into a target, Malini might be her only choice for survival. Anyone looking for a morally grey sapphic couple, you’ll find it with them. They stand on opposite ends, Malini’s people caused the downfall of Priya’s, and they should want nothing more but the other dead. Malini is pragmatic and willing to do and risk anything to fight her brother’s claim to the throne. But she is haunted by the past, and those ghosts continue to hover. Priya was the main highlight for me. Her resilience and her desire to reconnect with her people, even if it means betraying her own loved ones, were nothing short of inspiring to me. Her desire and motivation were realised and fascinating. I am excited to see what becomes of her in the series. 

Chapters are interspersed with others’ perspectives: Ashok, a key to Priya’s past, Bhumika, a fellow temple sister who had once saved Priya’s life. Rao, a follower of the Nameless God, an ally to Malini,  whose true name is concealed until the time is right. 

This is my first time reading a book by Suri, and I definitely know it won’t be the last. The Jasmine Throne is one book you will need to get your hands on. You are accompanied by unique perspectives, a charming yet complex cast, and an immersive writing style that hits all the right beats—a start to an epic fantasy trilogy that undoubtedly will be a staple in people’s bookshelves. Expected release for July 8th!


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