Review also published on my blog @ Dee's ReadsI received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I've been gunning for more young adult fiction that deals with the Middle East. Anything really, from its vast mythology (which I feel has been left relatively untapped) to just using the setting or having a character(s) speak the languages of Arabic/Farsi. I read The Fire Wish earlier this year and liked it. I was eager to read this one because it seemed to have more mature themes.
Wanna see what Nahlia, Malek, Leilan, and Raif look like?Check out my post where I cast the characters!
I finished this book over a week ago and had so many thoughts it was difficult to pound out a review. I did, however, have to get my images from my imagination onto the blog somehow so I did a post where I casted the characters. (see link above). It was a lot of fun, and I got so much positive feedback it gave me energy to write this review.
Here's the thing about this book: There are many polarized reviews/opinions out there about this. I feel like I need to write a few points to help you decide (if you were on the fence) about reading this.
The things you need to know or consider when reading this book:
It reads more like New Adult - There are adult themes in here. If you're looking for a young YA book and don't care for adult or new adult, just walk away from this. It's not all light and fluffy, it's dark as shit. In fact, I agree with Wendy who mentioned that she thinks this would've done well as a NA book.
There is abuse - There is emotional abuse (and some physical too). The physical isn't what you may think, but stuffing someone into a tiny space for months on end (her bottle), where she could barely breathe definitely constitutes as abuse in my book.
There is NO love triangle - I can address this later, but just...no. Those who think there is either didn't read far enough? or maybe they didn't understand the dynamic of the relationship. Think: Stockholm syndrome.
If any of those things are problematic for you, just walk away. It ain't gonna work. If you like darker books, don't mind tortured characters who are struggling with some major shit, then just be prepared. This is a book with A LOT of stuff going for it. I ultimately do think it pulled it off, but that's not saying I didn't have any hangups (because I did).
Although I'm Middle-Eastern, I don't get over-eager when I about about to read a book that contains ME mythology/ideology/setting. *why* ..because I'm almost always disappointed. If the author is from the Middle East, then -maybe- I'll be impressed. Even then, I don't hype myself up. It just doesn't happen. It's a complex and old culture and it varies (seemingly slightly but significantly to us) from country to country. While trying to relate to one group you may inadvertently be pissing another group off.
Thus, don't go into this book thinking this is an amazing retelling of Arabian Nights. Or that it portrays Middle Eastern mythology to the T. It doesn't. I don't even know why they said that on the cover, it's more like a novel with some flavoring from Arabian Nights. That doesn't mean it doesn't do a damn good job giving a feel for the culture, especially the sub-culture that exists in Los Angeles.
I live in Los Angeles. There is a HUGE population of Middle Eastern people here and while reading this I kept thinking "Oh my God!!! I wonder if that place is based on "The Spot"?" (It's a hookah place in Encino, where everyone goes to just dance and "be seen" and appraise each other.) It's definitely a place where if Raif and Nahlia danced--everyone would stare and gossip about it for a long time. It probably isn't based on that, because there are sooo many similar places here. Basically anywhere there is tea, hooka, loud music, and a late closing time (the place I frequent is open until 4am).
Demetrios got a surprising amount of things right in Exquisite Captive. Surprising to me because wasn't expecting that. Even on the cover, the writing on the cuff is in Arabic. [She consulted some friends and kind of made up her own phrase which fit the book. (I know because I asked around, googled it, checked her website, and finally had to stalk ask her) lol]
There are a few Arabic words sprinkled throughout too. I don't speak Arabic, But the letters are pretty much the same as Farsi (Arabic has additional letters/versions of certain ones that we don't really use, but have to learn when learning Farsi). I was happy to see Arabic in the lines of a YA book. I wish there were more. There are some awesome words and I think the language she did create was so similar to Arabic/Farsi that it gave the desired effect. I just wonder, is creating a new language for a novel/series easier than learning the language and including it? (future discussion post, anyone?)
I really enjoyed the characters in this book. Notice I didn't say "like" haha. I enjoyed the characters and their development. There is a character you will hate, so keep that in mind. He's also a main one, so yeah. Each character has flaws, especially Nahlia, Raif, and Malek. Nahlia is chained to her past and kind of stuck in her present by being Malek's genie.
Which leads me to my hypothesis (with research from my nonexistent doctorate):
Nahlia suffers from PTSD.
Is this stated in the book? No.
Can I substantiate this? Yes. (but this review is long enough so I'm not going to include all the quotes. if you're curious though--email me.)
Is this what the author intended? I have no idea.
(Remember when I stalked asked her? Turns out she has done research/work with PTSD before, So it is def plausible).
It makes sense though. She has constant flashbacks to the past. Nahlia's past was beyond rough, she went through crazy stuff. (Think: Iron Trial in the beginning with all the dead bodies..) If you don't get that ref, just trust me, it's bad. Her flashbacks are why so much of the book goes back and forth into the past. Once I figured assumed that about her, I became a lot more tolerant of her as a character.
I notice many people didn't like this back and forth but if you think about it, your main character is a woman suffering from PTSD (undiagnosed) who is living with (circumstances suggest forever) her "master" who is a sadistic man with multiple personalities. If you read the book you know how this is confirmed. Sometimes he's kind and part of him (one personality) really loves her/ believes he does. The other part though, damnnnn.
Nahlia has to figure out why she is responding to this type of abuse and behavior. She (obviously) doesn't get that right away. She also has to understand she needs to open up and be honest about herself. She does this, all while figuring out how to save her brother and evade who/whatever is hunting her.
I was quite taken how well Nahlia was portrayed; in the sense that she was a woman who is very old, in a beautiful body, but who was always trained to be stony and that she could never love. It's no wonder then that when she starts to get a conscience she'd feel shame.
Does it sound like I'm making a psychological analysis?
I kind of am. But you know what? I had fun doing that with this book. The author, whether she intended to or not, accurately portrayed the mental illnesses that the characters have in this book. The results of war, death, abuse, and slavery are far reaching and don't fade with time. This book illustrates that point in a meaningful way.
Raif, the leader of the revolution, enters Nahlia's world and brings with him a seer for a sister and Nahlia's personality deepens when faced with her past actions. Raif's initial reaction to Nahlia can be explained by his psychological state. Raif was a jerk to her and just plain mean. Then again, when you consider how he grew up and that her people were responsible for the death of his father and friend, it makes sense. OF COURSE he will say to himself and others that he hates her.
The element of mystery and fantasy was not lost on me either. The world that was created lie right on top of our own, and even dealt with human trafficking. The slave trade discussed in the book is actually based on human trafficking in our world today, and was intended to bring awareness to the issue. I love that idea, and even though it may be painful to read or you may want to judge and say "how could so and so do this" you have no idea what it would feel like to be a victim of human trafficking, the constant abuse and rape, etc. Especially for as many years as Nahlia and those around her.
I was pissed about the ending, but I'm over it...I just felt it could have been executed better. I would have liked it to be a little more spaced out--it felt rushed. I felt like one character was just included to keep tensions high. I don't know. That was the only reason I wasn't sure whether to rate it 3 or 4 stars. Ultimately, I think now that I've had time to digest it, the ending didn't ruin the book.I would recommend this book for older readers of Young Adult and people who enjoy New Adult and even Contemporary [all inside a hugely fantastic and unique mythological world].