I always try to go into books with an open mind and wanting to like them; it’s not fun for me to read books I don’t like. But even so, I haven’t had great luck with YA fantasy in the past so I mostly stopped reading it. For some reason, as a genre it’s particularly vulnerable to publishing trends and the resulting books often end up feeling the same as all the other books to me, even when having seemingly original sounding premises. Also, I’m gonna sound like a dick when I say this, but it feels like the standards for writing quality are lower than they should be for YA than they are for adult. Young adults deserve the good words, too!
So when I learned the latest Tahereh Mafi book was going to be the January Illumicrate book, I was very wary. I have never yet been interested in one of her books, and have been actively disinterested in many of them. With all of that going on in the background, I started the book. Right away, I did notice the language was on the flowery side, but it was written with a confidence that a lot of authors trying for beautiful writing only aspire to. So yes, flowery writing, but with control. She knows when to deploy an adjective and when to leave it alone. My brain sat up like a dog who’s just heard a cat outside the window.
Also, I was immediately pulled in by the story, which I didn’t really know anything about going in, except that it was inspired by Persian mythology and featured jinn. Our main character is Alizeh, a jinn living in an empire where jinn supposedly have rights but where in practical fact they are treated as barely more than people. They also have a fascinating mythological origin story that I’m not sure I had a full grasp on, but I had fun reading about it. The other main character is a prince, an heir to the throne, who accidentally puts Alizeh in the way of his grandfather the king, who recognizes that Alizeh is the jinn of a prophecy who he believes will kill him and bring the empire to ruin.
Alizeh’s arc was so great. She’s determined to become a seamstress and work her way out of service and poverty, which is difficult for jinn to do without breaking the law and using their magic (which is illegal). Alizeh is technically a chosen one, but somehow with all of her fancy details and character backstories, and detailed worldbuilding Mafi tricked me into liking it.
My one real complaint with the book was that it was much more emotionally engaging to read from Alizeh than it was to read from Kamran, the prince. His arc is to essentially deprivilege himself and have his eyes opened, which always runs the risk of you rolling your eyes like, okay, duh, yes, you poor sad little rich boy. But I think Mafi gets away with it because of what she does with his relationship to his grandfather.
I’m interested to see where this trilogy goes, and if she can keep me interested despite the presence of YA tropes that usually don’t sit well with me anymore. Although, I smelled hint of a love triangle on the way, and to that I say NO, please don’t do it, I beg you. Unless you’re going to pull a Xiran Jay Zhao and make it a throuple, I really don’t think my emotions could handle a love triangle in a series I’m otherwise enjoying.