Review: The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

Summary: 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.

Genre: fantasy, retelling
Rating: ★★★

The Stardust Thief was my BOTM pick, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this because it sounded so promising. It’s loosely based on stories from One Thousand and One Nights, and all the storytelling and history of jinns were so beautifully crafted. There was so much potential here and so many great pieces to the story, but unfortunately I found myself disappointed in the end.

My biggest grievance with this story was the pacing. This is not a small book, and for it to be 468 pages, I expected it to be packed to the brim with action. What happened instead is that there’s an odd amount of action in small spurts, and it was all over too quickly for me to really get into the scenes and enjoy them. The summary tells us that Loulie must survive ghoul attacks, face a jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from her past. The scenes with the ghoul attacks and even the jinn queen happened so quickly with little to no resolution. One moment the group was fighting a swarm of ghouls, and the next, the prince was telling stories in a neighboring town to earn them a bit of money so they could move on to the next city.

On one hand, I appreciated these miniscule details, because a lot of fantasy stories tend to skim over those little gaps in time, and the reader just has to accept that. On the other hand, I felt like too much time was spend focusing on the minor details and not enough was given to the overall plot. What’s unfortunate is that there is so much going on in this story, and had the priority been on other issues, like character development, it would have felt a lot less sluggish to get through.

My other big reason for giving this only three stars was that I didn’t really connect with that characters, let alone even like most of them. Loulie was a strong character, and I liked seeing her progression through the story, mostly as she came to terms with needing to rely on others to survive. She was a force to be reckoned with, but she did have her soft moments. I enjoyed her relationship with Qadir, mostly because it took on an almost paternal form, and it was refreshing to see. Qadir’s history opened up throughout the story, but I felt like there could have been even more focus on him, because it was so interesting.

But the other two main characters, Aisha and the prince, were incredibly dull and predictable. I felt like Loulie would have been better suited to go on the journey alone, because while both characters did eventually become useful to the plot, it was a long journey to get there. Until they were deemed necessary, they were extremely boring and weak, although in different ways. I will say, I was expecting some type of romance in this book based on the plot, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was almost none, and certainly not with the characters I was expecting to be forced together.

I’ve seen so many highly rated reviews of this book, which definitely leads me to believe it’s me and not the book. And truthfully, I I really loved the stronger parts of this book. However, I felt underwhelmed by a majority of the story. I know this is the first book in a trilogy, and I’m admittedly unsure of whether I’ll be continuing the series.

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