Synopsis and book tour post with a spoiler-free review here
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Imani and her sister discover that their disgraced brother might not be dead after all. Imani goes on a mission beyond The Swallowing Sands, which protects the Sahir from outsiders to retrieve him, accompanied by three scouts, an ancient djinni and her sister.
I’m not yet attached to the characters, but I love the way they were crafted. Brilliantly fleshed out, flawed, and felt like real people with emotional depth. Even the side characters were sufficiently developed.
The main character, Imani, comes from an influential and important family–the Beya clan. Their society is cut off from the rest of the world to protect their magic. The people are led to believe that the land outside the Sahir is a wasteland. I struggled with Imani’s character and found her sister, Amira, who is headstrong and open-minded more likeable. Imani was frustrating. Her denial and ignorance at the beginning were truly painful.
“You worry me, Imani. How can someone so accomplished be so naïve? Life isn’t a strip of steel you can bend to your will. Things change. People change. Accept that, or one of these days, I promise, something will upset you terribly and you won’t know how to deal with it.”Amira
“It is a pity, Imani, how little of your people’s history you truly know. The truth has been hidden from you, and you have welcomed the deception with open arms.”Qayn
However, she does experience growth throughout the book. As her journey to Alqibah, the kingdom beyond the Sands, progresses, she is forced to face a different reality and starts questioning whether it is truly better to be isolated from the outside world. At first, she’s against helping and sharing their magic with the outsiders but then realizes that they aren’t really at all that different from her people.
Taha is a sheild, like Imani, and a scout. He originates from the modest Al-Baz clan and is the son of Bayek, the grand Zahim and most powerful man in the Sahir, who presides over the council. I admit to liking Taha more, despite him being an asshole most of the time. He, too, is loyal to their teachings but unlike Imani knows about the outside world, yet refuses to question anything and blindly follows his father’s orders, which eventually come in conflict with Imani’s plan. I find Taha to be the most interesting character. We don’t really know his motives. His relationship with Imani is complicated because of their social status’ which influenced their perceptions of each other. It gets better during their quest, but only when they’re alone. Nevertheless, even their budding romance can’t come between him and his duty.
Bayek’s orders will always come before everything else, before reason, compassion, friendship, before love, and he will not abandon those orders, even if their pursuit will certainly kill him.Imani
Qayn is, as we are led to believe, a charismatic djinni who offers Imani information about her brother and his help. He is my second favorite character for now. I’m also interested in the story of Imani’s older brother Atheer. I would love to see a bonus story or maybe a prequel about him.
The story kept me on my toes, and I never knew what was coming next. The central themes were duty, justice, privilege, colonialism as well as isolation. The character dynamics were compelling (although certain ones drove me crazy at times). The worldbuilding was imaginative, but a few things weren’t really explained, and I don’t quite understand the spice magic. Also, I sense a potential love triangle. I’ve never liked them, and in my opinion, there are better ways to create conflict.
The reason I’m not giving full 5 stars is the characters. But a good book doen’st necessarilly need likeable characters. It’s just my personal preference, I am a characters over plot person. Nonetheless, Spice Road is definitely an ambitious and masterful debut worth reading. I’m very curious to see how this story unfolds and can’t wait to see more of the characthers and their growth.
Arc provided by Hodder & Stoughton through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.