A fantasy book I was super excited for last year was The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah. Her debut novel, it’s also the first in the Sandsea Trilogy. In all honesty, I was first drawn to the cover and the Aladdin vibes I got from it. Even so, this book is all its own, an imaginative and complex journey across sandseas as a group of mismatched people (including one jinn!) join forces to defeat a sneaky evil.
Loulie al-Nazari, also known as the Midnight Merchant, makes her living selling relics on the black market until one day, the sultan commissions her to travel across the vast sandsea to find a magic lamp. Loulie and her bodyguard, Qadir (secretly a jinn), will be joined by the sultan’s eldest son and his own bodyguard, Aisha. Unbeknownst to Loulie and Qadir, though, it’s not the jinn-killing eldest son who joins them, but the younger and more cowardly Prince Mazen in disguise. He’s not cut out for the journey, but his three companions will hopefully be enough to keep him safe.
As the four of them make their way across deserts and through cities along the way, they’ll encounter a range of dangers and some surprising twists in who’s behind the worst crimes and attacks.
The Stardust Thief is a thrilling and magical ride with nods to One Thousand and One Nights, a world divided between humans and jinn, and a quest to find a lamp containing a powerful jinn. I loved Aladdin as a kid, so that’s what caught my attention first, but this novel unfolds into a completely different but equally exciting story.
There are four main characters, three of whom get point-of-view chapters. First we meet Loulie, the infamous Midnight Merchant, who was orphaned in a horrific tragedy and saved by Qadir, a jinn. Together, they travel around and gather magical relics to sell. She’s scrappy and stubborn, brave and determined, yet a bit closed off emotionally. When the sultan insists that she find a magic lamp for him, she can’t refuse.
Prince Mazen has lived his whole life behind palace walls, only escaping occasionally to anonymously wander the streets of Madinne. He craves freedom and adventure, so it’s easy for his older brother Omar (the king of 40 thieves who famously kills all the jinn in the city) to convince him to venture into the desert, alongside Loulie, in his place. Mazen is a kindhearted softie who prefers telling stories to wielding swords, and he’s sorely ill-prepared for the dangers that await him and his companions throughout their mission.
His bodyguard, Aisha, is one of the 40 thieves working under Omar. She’s the most morally gray character here; she’s shifty and I don’t know how much I trust her. She’s severe, cold, and too loyal to Omar. Should the other three trust her? Her character arc is the most unexpected here, too, and I have no idea where the future books will take her. Suspicious, but intriguing.
My favorite character is Qadir, the jinn who stands beside Loulie. He doesn’t get point-of-view chapters, which is a shame… but perhaps also for the best. He has a lot of secrets and knows too much! He only grows more fascinating as the story progresses, and I’m curious to see what happens in the second book of the series.
As the small group moves across the desert in search of the magic lamp, they encounter a variety of dangers. Enchanted caves, killers with a grudge, ghouls that follow on their heels… there’s a lot of action throughout the book. It’s kind of exhausting, but it also keeps the excitement high. And although some danger and fighting scenes may seem superfluous, they actually serve a purpose and keep the story moving forward. I kept thinking the characters should be closer to finding the lamp the whole time, but worry not. Things work out exactly as they need to.
However, The Stardust Thief does absolutely end on a cliffhanger. So much is revealed towards the end, and by the time the characters are on the precipice of something stunning, the story comes to a pause. I cannot wait until the second book arrives, because I need to know what happens next!
The Stardust Thief is an imaginative, action-packed, thrilling book with well-drawn characters and suspense. Things wrap up well, but there’s so much unresolved and so much new to explore that book #2 can’t come fast enough. The Ashfire King is due out sometime in late 2023 or early 2024, with the final installment of the trilogy to follow after that. Stay tuned for my reviews of those!
Get the Book
You can buy The Stardust Thief here – it’s available as a hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
|The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah|
|Series||The Sandsea Trilogy (#1)|
|Setting||Fantasy Arab World|
|Number of Pages||480|
|Format I Read||Hardcover (BOTM)|
|Original Publication Date||May 17, 2022|
Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, this book weaves together the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.
Neither here nor there, but long ago . . .
Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.
With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.
About the Author
Chelsea Abdullah is an American-Kuwaiti writer born and raised in Kuwait, where she grew up listening to stories about mysterious desert creatures and wily (only sometimes likable) heroes.
Consumed by wanderlust, she has put down roots in various states. After earning her MA in English at Duquesne University, she moved to New York, where she currently lives. When not immersed in her own fictional worlds, she spends her free time playing video games, doodling characters, and hoarding books she doesn’t have the shelf space for.
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