I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
I'm continually lamenting the fact that YA fantasy rarely is rarely centered in the Middle East. As a proud Persian-American, I wonder why our myths are never included in mainstream YA. I really hope this is the start of that change. I mean, djinn are fascinating! Arabian nights, can you say book of mythology perfect for YA? Suffice it so say, I was super pumped about this when I saw it. Maybe my expectations were too high, because I was invariably disappointed. Let me tell you why.
The first 10% of the book was superb. The world building had me hooked, and I loved her description of the setting. I was fascinated by the dual POVs and they were different enough that I could keep the chapters straight. Unfortunately, it started to plummet soon after.
This is very similar to (or maybe it is) a sliding doors plot. We have two girls: one is a djinn (Najwa) living in caverns hidden from humans, the other is a human girl (Nayele) who lives in a village but is on her way to marry the prince in Bagdad. I couldn't stand Nayele. She was selfish, bratty, and even bullying in some instances. Najwa, on the other hand, had my sympathies. She was loyal, determined, and fair. Soon the girls switch places and everything goes up in smoke. This is where the real problems began for me.
We have a nice juicy story. Nayele, as a human, is disguising as a jinni in an entirely jinni village with nothing but her own cunning to protect her. When she meets Najwa's friend Shirin and crush, Atish she doesn't really panic. Instead, we have a nice steaming pile of insta-love
between her and Atish. They just meet, but his gaze is searing hot and he kisses her and just immediately likes her. How convenient.
Oh, but wait! We have Najwa set to marry the Prince in Nayele's place, but fortunately, the Prince and Najwa have an attraction to each other too.
I guess it's a perfect thing that the girls switched spots with each other, huh? Although Prince Kamal and Najwa don't have insta-love, theirs is a bit more drawn out, I still found it to be way too convenient.
I also have to say another big reason why I didn't love this book was the lack of cultural explanations. Maybe I'm being unfair. But, as a middle eastern gal I was excited to read all about our culture from an outsiders perspective. Would she get the meanings right? The food? The clothes? And, to be fair, there was nothing glaringly wrong about any of it. I just felt it was whitewashed. What was different wasn't explained. Do we ever learn that Shirin's name means "sweet"? Do we ever learn that the Alef that was part of the jinni wards is actually the first letter in our alphabet and looks like an " i " with a hat instead of a dot at the top? I can't help but think there should've been more integration. But maybe that's just me, wishing to read more about my culture that is never present in YA lit.
Although the ending was predictable, I wasn't as annoyed by the characters at the end. Why? Oh, because the annoying one, Nayele (with her selfish tendencies), immediately changed her ways. See, the thing is, her change wasn't gradual. I didn't buy it. I just accepted it like so much of this novel I just accepted. You may be wondering, with all my criticisms, why the two stars? Why not 1? That's easy. The extra star is given because as problematic as this story was, the author was courageous in writing it. She's writing about a culture that isn't her own, and she didn't get anything wrong.
sure, there were tons of omissions, but nothing was wrong. That's a feat, and I commend her for that. Also, until I read another fantasy set in the Middle East, I'm going to keep an eye on this series. I have hopes that with the second book it will get better.