The Stardust Thief is the start of an intriguing and pacey new fantasy series and debut by American-Kuwaiti author Chelsea Abdullah, that draws on Middle Eastern tales and mythology. It is refreshing to read fantasy that does not come out of the Western tradition. And Middle Eastern fantasy is a rich source of inspiration. This book unashamedly draws on well known sources such as the Thousand and One Arabian Nights and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
Loulie al-Nazari is known as the Midnight Merchant. She trades in magical items, helped by her bodyguard Qadir and a magical compass, including the blood of Jinn that has healing properties. In Loulie’s desert world, Jinn, the source of magic, are hunted and many have retreated to a secret city below the Western Sandsea. After saving the life of the sultan’s son Mazen, Loulie and Qadir are blackmailed into going on a quest to find a rare artefact, a lamp containing a Jinn who will answer the sultan’s bidding. She is to be joined on this quest by Omar, the sultan’s other son and King of the forty thieves and Aisha, one of Omar’s gang. Aisha is actually along to watch over Mazen, who has used magic to swap places with Omar.
After that set up the rest is a quest across the desert full of cliffhangers, magical encounters and reveals among the party that impact on their relationship with each other. All of this is couched with myths and stories that both inform the action and deepen the reveals. As the four travellers themselves become part of a larger story that puts them in greater danger.
This is decidedly not our world. But Abdullah draws on the mythology and culture of the Middle East to create her own rich and vibrant world full of danger and action and powered by a fascinating and heartbreaking magical system.
The Stardust Thief is an impressive debut. The pacing, the action and the narrative twists are well handled, the magic system is unique and and the stakes feel real. This book declares itself to be the first book of The Sandsea Trilogy and ends with what can only be called a satisfying cliffhanger. The second volume can not come soon enough.