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.
... a gorgeous fantasy adventure interspersed with fables and brimming with the contested, overlapping histories of jinn, gods and humans ... Drawing liberal inspiration from Arab folklore, particularly The Thousand and One Nights, Abdullah builds a rich world that departs from her source material in surprising and delightful ways. I was especially impressed by her dexterous weaving of contemporary Arabic’s cadences and vocabulary into her narration and dialogue; there’s a thin line between flavor and fetishism, and Abdullah always remains on the correct side of it. It’s not unlike hearing the difference between native speakers’ dialogue in film and television versus language that’s been taught phonetically — a nuance unlikely to register for anyone who doesn’t speak the language, but a pleasant surprise for those who do ... There are some late pacing issues typical of first novels, especially those that set up sequels: After some drawn-out pauses in the action, multiple revelations tumble over one another during a climactic battle that ends up feeling both rushed and too slow. Despite this, The Stardust Thief remains a wonderful tumult of tale-telling and treasure-seeking that revels in the dangers of both.
Rather than overwhelming the reader with multiple plotlines and a sprawling cast of characters, The Stardust Thief focuses on its central trio and the locales they visit. The various settings never feel empty or underpainted, especially in the sections told from Prince Mazen’s perspective: Forced to live cooped up in the palace for most of his life, his eager delight at finally experiencing the broader world is infectious. As the party draws closer to the lamp, Abdullah slowly unveils new truths about this world, resulting in a narrative that grows richer as it intensifies in pace. With each revelation, from the nature of relics to the existence of ifrit (hyperpowerful jinn), Abdullah propels the reader forward, heightening anticipation for what the next few pages will bring ... Loulie, Aisha and Mazen are drawn in exacting detail, with all their strengths, faults and feelings on full display, and The Stardust Thief is full of captivating intrapersonal conflict. Abdullah does a fine job creating realistic protagonists with clear differences and opposing philosophies: Loulie despises the task she has been given, Aisha despises the work Loulie does and Mazen just wants everyone to stop fighting ... an enjoyable read that slowly enchants its readers.
Abdullah transports readers into this rich world and literary heritage by crafting characters with deep backstories; maintaining an engrossing pace; and, most impressively, layering details into the story so deftly that the veil between magic and reality slips and bends delightfully ... An impressive first in an expected trilogy, one that hits high notes of several popular themes and trends (found families, classics retold), but offers fresh perspectives as well. It will delight readers who appreciate highly atmospheric books. Share widely, not just with fantasy readers.