• The Good: Fun high seas piracy adventure with some magic and mythology!
  • The Bad: Heist plot is ok; characters are simple; stakes are low
  • The Literary: Well researched and rich world

Amina al-Sirafi, former pirate, left behind her eventful career on the high seas to retire peacefully with her daughter and to try to rekindle her relationship with religion and be a good person in the eyes of Allah.

I really like a lot about this book. First, it’s cute and funny. The epistolary nature of the novel is Amina’s scribe writing her story as she dictates. Amina wants to keep in all the curses and raunchy bits, while her scribe feels it’s best to gloss over such events, so even a dynamic in the frame story develops.

Be swept away as you learn about Amina’s previous adventures sailing around the Indian Ocean with her loyal crew of pirates, surviving backstabbing rogues, vengeful merchant princes, several husbands, and a demon that opens up a supernatural world for her. All that is interwoven throughout her current mission.

Even as Amina wants to care for her daughter in the right way, she still longs for adventure and glory. So, when she’s offered an obscene amount of money to find the kidnapped daughter of a wealthy woman, it doesn’t take much to convince her. Besides, with that kind of money her daughter could have any future she wanted. But the job turns sour as the kidnapped daughter’s motivation comes clear and Amina becomes conflicted.

Amina’s not my favorite character, but she is a strong liberated Muslim woman, a mother bear, with a tendency to overindulge in wine and men. The heist plot is also fine. The mythology and supernatural elements are my favorite parts, partly because they’re grounded against a rich historical setting. The last quarter of the book even takes a surrealist turn, which I really enjoy. But overall, it’s just a pop fantasy action heist adventure that’s a bit of fun. I expect more from a Hugo nomination.

Recommended for fans of high fantasy ready for a fresh take!