The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah
Publication Date: May 17th, 2022
Hardcover. 480 pages.
About The Stardust Thief:
"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.
Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, The Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp."
The Stardust Thief is a dazzling fantasy following illegal jinn relic merchant Loulia al-Nazari and her bodyguard Qadir as they embark on a journey that will, quite literally, change their lives. Loulie is known as the Midnight Merchant, seller of illegal jinn relics and who has made quite a name/reputation for herself. When she is blackmailed by the sultan to journey deep into the vast, dangerous Sandsea to retrieve an ancient relic she has no choice but to accept his offer, as the alternative would be execution as punishment for her illegal activities. She is accompanied by one of the sultan’s sons, her personal bodyguard, and a talented thief who works for one of the sultan’s sons. The Stardust Thief is an action-packed story of magic, adventure, secrets, and so much more. Although I didn’t end up loving this book quite as much as I’d expected to, it is still an incredibly entertaining and well-written fantasy novel that kept me hooked.
We follow the POVs of Loulie, Mazen, and Aisha, and I probably enjoyed reading each narrative the most in that order as well. Loulie was the most intriguing character to follow, as I really enjoyed learning about her work as the Midnight Merchant and seeing her deal with all of the different trials that were thrown her way in this book–and trust me, there were a lot. One of my favorite components of this book was Loulie’s friendship/parental relationship with Qadir, who also acts as her personal bodyguard, and I somewhat wish the entire book had just featured them as main characters and followed them along this journey.
Mazen was a bit of a stereotypical character in the sense that he was a bit of a “reluctant royal” who is one of the “good” and more moral son over his somewhat frightening brother Omar who is leader of the Forty Thieves and an extremely cutthroat jinn killer. Mazen had a really interesting POV to follow for the most part, though I didn’t feel overly connected or invested in his story. As mentioned, Aisha was my least favorite narrative to follow and I don’t know exactly why, as when I think about her as a character she seems very intriguing. That being said, I think I just found her a bit too familiar or boring as an individual character and she didn’t stand out enough from other characters similar to her that I’ve read in other books.
I think this book had an extremely strong start–for instance, I actually really loved the first scene with Loulie and Qadir meeting a client of hers as the Midnight Merchant. This scene was really well executed, with great characterization, atmosphere, dialogue, etc., and I wish the rest of the story had stayed as strong as this scene throughout. One aspect that I really liked were the small stories interspersed throughout, most told by Mazen, which added immense depth, color, and background to the culture of this world. They have a very mythic/folkloric vibe to them that made them really fun little interludes amidst the rest of the action of the book.
I don’t know why this book dragged for me at various points and also didn’t quite click with me in the way I hoped. I loved the world, the lore, the stories, the magic, the jinn, but I think the characters honestly took a lot away from this. The plot also I think was a big problem and just didn’t work. It was too fast, too slow, too random and convoluted. It didn’t follow a good plot line of events and left me just wishing we could have had a more streamlined journey. It just felt like every single scene had something “go wrong” or some major action happen and it just didn’t grab me. I would have loved to explore a bit deeper into some of the settings described or visited rather than follow some actions scenes in those settings that sort of derailed everything.
On a positive note, however, the very last couple pages of this book’s ending are what I think are really keeping me excited and looking forward to the sequel the most. Prior to those last few pages, the ending that we were given felt rushed and convoluted, a bit confusing, and I just kept losing interest to a certain extent, so it was nice to have something pull me right back into the story in anticipation of what's next.
Overall The Stardust Thief is a really fun, beautiful story with a fantastic world and magic system. It wasn’t quite as much a favorite as I had hoped, but I certainly would still recommend it and very much look forward to the sequel! I've heard the audiobook for The Stardust Thief is amazing as well and I think I may re-read it on audio or read the sequel as an audio next time.