The Spice Road Trilogy
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publishing Date: January 24, 2023
Page count: 464 pages
Reading age: 14 – 17 years
ISBN-10: 0593126963 / ISBN-13: 978-0593126967
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.
Content Warning: politics, colonialism
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A traditional quest story in a unique and fascinating new world!
Spice Road is the first book in the trilogy of the same name by author Maiya Ibrahim, and it is a stellar beginning. I was captivated by the author’s world-building, fascinated by the mythology and the slowly unfolding history of the land of Sahir and the Kingdom of Aqibah. The main characters are worthy fighters and magic users but also have hidden sides. I rooted for the small group of rescuers and scouts even when their loyalties conflicted. Throw in a compelling storyline, and you have an absorbing and entertaining reading experience.
From the city of Qalia in the Sahir to the nightmarish ruins and desert of the Forbidden Wastes, the First City, and the Kingdom of Aqibah, I was impressed by the descriptions of the locations. I felt like they put me right in the story and the action. Along the way, descriptions of panoramic vistas reminded me of scenes from a historical Kdrama.
There was some phenomenal world-building which included the characters drinking tea made from the bark of a Misra tree, at times in a formal tea ceremony, to draw out the strength of their magic or affinity. A person’s affinity was individual to them and varied from person to person, such as being able to manipulate the earth or fire or, in the case of Taha, exert control over animals.
The land of Sahir is unknown and unseen by the rest of the world, and the people in Sahir have been led to believe everything outside their borders is dangerous wastelands. It was interesting to watch Imani learn of the discrepancies in what she’d been taught about the world outside.
The main characters start out enemies, but as they travel together, they slowly change their attitudes toward one another. I was drawn to Imani from the start, and she matures quite a bit over the course of the story as she sees things outside her usual routine. Things were easier and beautiful in her world, but not for everyone else. I liked that she had discovered her calling to be a Shield at an early age and had trained hard with her older brother to excel at this when the time came. The fight and sparring scenes were well-drawn and easy to follow. Her relationship with Taha is a real rollercoaster, and Qayn offers an enjoyable third party.
The high fantasy plot includes a quest to save Imani’s brother, Atheer, who has gotten involved in a rebellion in the Kingdom of Aqibah. Tension mounts as it is revealed that the members of the travel party have conflicting orders or goals related to Atheer’s “rescue.” Secrets and betrayals are lurking along the way, along with an enemies-to-lovers subplot, and some terrifying monsters to escape. I am already looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.
I recommend SPICE ROAD to readers who enjoy young adult fantasy or quest stories.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Maiya Ibrahim is the debut author of SPICE ROAD, publishing January 24, 2023, from Delacorte Press and Hodder & Stoughton. She graduated with a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Technology Sydney. When she isn’t writing, reading, or spending time with her family, she enjoys video games, gardening, and expanding her collection of rare trading cards. She lives in Sydney, Australia.
She is represented by Peter Knapp of Park & Fine Literary and Media, Claire Wilson of RCW Literary, and Mary Pender-Coplan of United Talent Agency.
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