I received an ARC from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Fantasy Age Range: YA Star Rating: 4 stars Series: first book in trilogy
In the hidden desert city of Qalia, secret spice magic awakens affinities in those who drink the misra tea. With an affinity for iron, seventeen-year-old Imani wields a dagger like no other warrior, garnering her the reputation as the next greatest Shield for battling the dangerous djinn, ghouls, and other monsters that lurk in the sands beyond city limits.
Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother who tarnished the family name after he was discovered stealing their nation’s coveted spice – a tell-tale sign of magical obsession. He disappeared soon after, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes, and leaving Imani reeling with both betrayal and grief.
But when Imani uncovers evidence her brother may be alive and spreading their nation’s magic beyond the desert, she strikes a deal with the Council to find him and bring him back to Qalia before he can reveal the city’s location. Accompanied by Qayn, a roguish but handsome djinni, and Taha, a powerful beastseer whose magical talents are matched only by his arrogance, they set out on their mission.
Imani will soon discover there are many secrets that lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes – and in her own heart – but will she find her brother before his betrayals endanger the fate of all of Qalia?
Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
SPICE ROAD is an enjoyable fantasy about a girl seeking her brother – and the truth of his disappearance.
The first half of the book can best be described as a road trip with very suspicious, unfriendly characters. And a boy who acts one way in front of others and another way on his own. (I have to say, I really did not like Taha because of this – it’s a massive red flag for me – so where he ends up at the conclusion of the book was immensely satisfying.)
There’s all sorts of danger on the way, turning the desert into a dangerous barrier that protects Imani’s home, but can be penetrated, undermining the safety of it for future books. There are monsters to threaten their path, a strangely deserted city, and a wasteland of sand that tries to lead you astray. I really liked the more “natural world” (albeit it a magical natural world) element of danger there.
It contrasts nicely to the second half, where the setting is urban, giving a difference sense of threat and danger. it helps keep the tension rising as, having at least got a bit used to the desert and some of its rules, Imani now has to face down an entirely new sort of danger – and in a land that she is unfamiliar with.
In both halves, there is the continuing uncertainty over her companions and how well she can trust them. Pretty much all of them are hiding a lot and are push agendas of their own/given to them by another, leaving Imani more or less on her own when it comes to being sure of her safety, despite having people around her.
I alternated between physical and audio ARCs of this book, which was very useful as it let me keep reading when doing manual, brainless tasks, but also kept the audio portion down to manageable amounts for my brain. Probably 1/3 of the book was listened to. The narrator is great (and it also meant I learnt how to pronounce the various names correctly!) and I enjoyed the bits I listened to.
SPICE ROAD is the start of the trilogy, and I suspect the next book will be quest-like, and the final book a bit fight to save the various countries Imani finds herself connected to now.