The Stardust Thief (The Sandsea Trilogy #1) by Chelsea Abdullah
Published by Orbit Books
Young Adult, Epic Fantasy
Release Date : May 17th 2022
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.
The desert is no place for bleeding hearts.
ARC provided by the publisher Orbit Books through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Stardust Thief is an okay first book that have potential to be better in later sequels.
Amongst the 2022 debuts that have been circulating and highlighted on multiple blogs, Twitter threads, and general buzz from readers The Stardust Thief by—Kuwait-American author—Chelsea Abdullah takes the top spot. This debut has caught my eye ever since I saw the cover reveal. The cover is designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio and illustration by Mike Heath / Magnus Creative. The illustration of the compass with intricate detail and the enchanted fire means a lot to the story than meets the eye. The book is marketed as,
“Perfect for readers of The City of Brass and The Bone Shard Daughter, this epic quest will captivate and enthrall you, sweeping you away into a land where the line between stories and reality blur, and where magic lurks in the most unexpected places.”
I haven’t read City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, but I have read The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart; which is one of my favourite reads in 2021. This promising marketing line and a very interesting blurb—“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.“—promised an epic adventure.
This line was enough to catch my attention and immediately request an ARC on NetGalley. It is the perfect teaser for an adventurous story across the vast dessert with an unlikely group of people to find an ancient artifact. The art of the character cards for the pre-order campaign done by Sara Mirzaa and sticker designs by Samohsai adds to the hype for the book. Before the release Chelsea Abdullah did an interview with a close of friend of mine Ness from Talks of Tales (Talking of Tales — Interview with Chelsea Abdullah, Author of ‘The Stardust Thief’) where Chelsea talked about the writing process, the inspiration of the story in detail, and many more. Truly the hype for the release of— The Stardust Thief—Chelsea Abdullah’s debut is quite large.
When I finally got my hands on The Stardust Thief I was excited and buzzed to read this Arabian epic fantasy. Yet.. my ratings didn’t reflect the excitement and hype I had for this book.
There was a fine line between being set free by the truth and being shackled by it.
The Stardust Thief is the first book to an epic trilogy—The Sandsea Trilogy—by debut author Chelsea Abdullah. The story is inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights or also known as Arabian Nights—a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. The Stardust Thief follows the perspectives of multiple characters : a legendary merchant—Loulie and her jinn bodyguard—Qadir; a cowardly prince—Mazen, and his fearless bodyguard—Aisha— that hunts jinn. The merchant is tasked by the sultan to find an ancient artifact that is believed to be buried in the desert. Escorted by the sultan’s son and his bodyguard they travel across the desert to find this artifact.
The Stardust Thief takes readers under the scorching heat of the sun and the golden sands of the deserts. The world building in this story is truly expansive and magnificent. Abdullah described the world in vivid detail from the bustling markets, the dusty secretive bars, the lush gardens sprouting from jinn blood, and to the gilded riches of the sultan’s palace. The sensory descriptions also adds another layer to immerse readers fully into the story.
Throughout the story readers will be treated with stories from legends and mythology about jinn kings and queens, enchanted artifacts, magical lamps, and heroes. A story within a story never fails to catch my attention. It is certainly one of my favourite parts in The Stardust Thief. Abdullah dances between illusion and real life using these stories to weave an adventure that is wondrous and fantastical. The magic itself is pretty straight forward as it all stems from jinns that have powers to enchant things or do any certain kind of magic. But seeing the progression of the story there is a potential for the magic to be expanded even more in future sequels.
Magic had destroyed her life. But perhaps when sharpened into a weapon of her making, magic could help her reclaim control of it.
The beating heart of The Stardust Thief are the cast of characters. From the brief descriptions of the cast of characters readers can get the gist that there will be a lot of trials and interesting character interaction throughout the story. Out of the four main POVs, Loulie and Mazen is the most important as they are the two most prominent characters that fuels the plot of The Stardust Thief. Qadir and Aisha are mostly there as plot tools that help Loulie and Mazen to move forward. Knowing this I had high expectations for the characterization and growth of these characters.
Abdullah meticulously gives snippets into the characters personality and overall motivation for readers. Each character came with a particular role to fill, equipped with a certain of skills, and a background that was expected to be interesting enough to grip readers attention. Yet for me the characters didn’t give me enough of a hook to fully invest in them.
There are certain things in the characterization that seemed one dimensional for me. It is understandable that this is a subjective view from here on out. Don’t let my opinion differ you from reading this book because this view may be different person to person. I had high expectations for the characterization and character development because it is something that I have preference towards.
This is not a story, he told himself. This is reality, and I am living it right now.
The first half of The Stardust Thief introduces each character to readers in separate scenarios in which their paths slowly converges by the second half. Though for me this comes at a cost that resulted in slowing the pace and ended up having certain parts feeling quite dragged out. If you are a reader that don’t mind a slow paced plot progression this shouldn’t be much of a hindrance.
There is a few pre-established relationships between characters in this book. The relationships unravel with the continuation of the story, which resulted in something similar to a domino effect of revelations. Yet these revelations were executed in a very monotonous and predictable way. It is obvious while reading how easily predictable the actions of the characters in my eyes that it definitely affected my reading experience.
The dynamics and interaction between the characters is quite standard. It is not what I hoped it would be. The characters serve their purpose for the plot and so the plot moves forward. I expected to be kept on edge by the intensity of their predicament and filled a sense of emotion but I ended up feeling like Qadir, which is very neutral about everything. This led to me slowly lose interest in continuing the story.
Blessed, blessed sand. Ground beneath their feet. An end. Or, perhaps, a beginning.
Final thoughts, The Stardust Thief is a good debut book, with okay characters, a somewhat interesting premise, and fine execution. Subjectively, for me, it didn’t hit the mark as a fantastic and compelling read. The Stardust Thief has all the potential to bring something new to the table. I really hope that the sequel will be better in so many ways because I can truly see how the world and characters can grow to be something more. I am truly saddened that I didn’t like The Stardust Thief as much as I hoped I would but I am positive about the future. And I will indeed read the sequel!
I recommend for readers that have similar taste as me to proceed with caution. While I highly recommend if you are a reader that likes a slower pace and have preference towards plot over characters. The Stardust Thief is also a good book for new readers to get into fantasy because of how epic the world is and the easy to grasp fantastical elements. The story within a story adds a lot to the wonder and awe that will truly entice readers to read more.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.