I actually finished this book a few weeks ago and my thoughts never coalesced into anything productive. The Stardust Thief was my last read with the OpenlyBooked Book Club on Instagram and while I enjoyed reading it, I found it extraordinarily hard to focus on.
Whether that’s my state of mind, the pacing of the book, the slow burn, or what, I really don’t know. It took me three weeks to read and became a struggle by the end despite having liked it for the most part.
Let’s take a look at the book and then a few specific thoughts. Also if you have the hardcover make sure to hold it up to Google Lens to hear a message from the author!
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: The Stardust Thief
- Series: The Sandsea Trilogy, #1
- Author: Chelsea Abdullah
- Publisher & Release: Orbit, May 2022
- Length: 480 pages
- Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for fans of desert settings, stories about stories, 1001 Nights, jinn magic, and fantasy with clean content
Here’s the synopsis:
Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One Nights, this book weaves together the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.
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.
By all accounts and descriptions, I was expecting to be utterly enchanted by this book. I love stories about stories and storytellers, folklore is my jam, and I love a good lush setting full of tradition and magic and lore. So why did I struggle with this?
For one, the flowery writing style tripped me up when it harshly contrasted with lighter, choppier areas of text. I like purple prose at times but when I’m tired and my brain is already full, overly descriptive writing can bog me down. Then when she switched to an action scene the sentences became short and often repetitive, which threw me since I don’t think she accomplished the sense of urgency she was going for with the contrasting writing styles.
I did really like the setting and imagery though since the author used the environment to bring the story and journey of the characters to life. Tying that into the world building we definitely got a good picture of life in the Souk, the oases, the palace, and all the music and food and people contained within.
The magic was definitely the strongest aspect. Jinn stories are endlessly fascinating and I liked how the various ifrits had different abilities and powers, as did their blood. Is this a good time to talk about Qadir? No spoilers but I loved his character until the big mystery reveal felt VERY young adult. I had to go and look at what age group this was for again, as I felt like I was reading a YA at times and other times it did feel more mature.
The characters and their relationships were another strong suit. I get so sick of reading romance in fantasy and I truly actually loved the themes of unrequited love and friendship. Loulie never got closure with Ahmed, Mazen and Loulie ended up as friends, and Aisha found her own way. Qadir had his lovers soul on hand and I like that the author kept him loyal to it.
Friendship and stories were such a refreshing theme to read about for once.
In general I liked all of the characters too. Mazen and his child like love for stories and history was definitely a highlight. When we got into the “parchment pages” of his telling I think there were some of the best parts.
My biggest gripe was the title of the book. The Stardust Thief was mentioned once, in passing, about a character that wasn’t even one of the main group, and it didn’t fit the description at all. Yeah it sounds cool but with no stardust involved, no one is stealing it either…. So humph. I’m being cranky, but humph. It also bugged me that the editor let a few things slip like at one point where the horses were gone, and they had been walking for two days, Loulie turned around in the saddle.
So to wrap this up, there is plenty of action, balanced with travels, stories, rich imagery, powerful magic, and good characters & banter in general should have made this a wonderful and engaging story. I think my feelings of neutrality are more a reflection on my state of mind than a true representation of the book, and I would fully recommend it to anyone who likes slow burning, character driven stories about legend and lore.