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Spice Road

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DNF @ 25%. I think this is just a case of right book, wrong reader. My expectations were completely different to what is being offered here, but I think fans of being dropped in the middle of a plot while being filled in with world building and explanations later on will be a big fan of this book. The spice magic definitely reminds me of Dune, and I can tell the author has included nods to many of their favorite SFF works of past. Highly recommended for fans of YA fantasy with a gorgeous, gorgeous cover.
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"Spice Road" is the first book in the trilogy of the same name by author Maiya Ibrahim, and it is a stellar beginning. I was captivated by the author’s world-building, fascinated by the mythology and the slowly unfolding history of the land of Sahir and the Kingdom of Aqibah. The main characters are worthy fighters and magic users but also have hidden sides. I rooted for the small group of rescuers and scouts even when their loyalties conflicted. Throw in a compelling storyline, and you have an absorbing and entertaining reading experience. 

From the city of Qalia in the Sahir to the nightmarish ruins and desert of the Forbidden Wastes, the First City, and the Kingdom of Aqibah, I was impressed by the descriptions of the locations. I felt like they put me right in the story and the action. Along the way, descriptions of panoramic vistas reminded me of scenes from a historical Kdrama. 

There was some phenomenal world-building which included the characters drinking tea made from the bark of a Misra tree, at times in a formal tea ceremony, to draw out the strength of their magic or affinity. A person’s affinity was individual to them and varied from person to person, such as being able to manipulate the earth or fire or, in the case of Taha, exert control over animals. 

The land of Sahir is unknown and unseen by the rest of the world, and the people in Sahir have been led to believe everything outside their borders is dangerous wastelands. It was interesting to watch Imani learn of the discrepancies in what she’d been taught about the world outside.

The main characters start out enemies, but as they travel together, they slowly change their attitudes toward one another. I was drawn to Imani from the start, and she matures quite a bit over the course of the story as she sees things outside her usual routine. Things were easier and beautiful in her world, but not for everyone else. I liked that she had discovered her calling to be a Shield at an early age and had trained hard with her older brother to excel at this when the time came. The fight and sparring scenes were well-drawn and easy to follow. Her relationship with Taha is a real rollercoaster, and Qayn offers an enjoyable third party.

The high fantasy plot includes a quest to save Imani’s brother, Atheer, who has gotten involved in a rebellion in the Kingdom of Aqibah. Tension mounts as it is revealed that the members of the travel party have conflicting orders or goals related to Atheer’s “rescue.” Secrets and betrayals are lurking along the way, along with an enemies-to-lovers subplot, and some terrifying monsters to escape. I am already looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

I recommend SPICE ROAD to readers who enjoy young adult fantasy or quest stories.
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Thank you NetGalley for an eArc in exchange for an honest review. 

Spice Road was a slow start, but once Imani ventured into prisons and the unknown to save her brother I was hooked. This novel gave me vibes of Foundryside, but with slightly less world building. The connection between Qayn and Imani reminds me of Sancia and Clef. I can't wait to dive deeper into the world in books two and three!
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I love a good fantasy set in a middle-eastern-inspired desert, and this was no exception. It was exciting, and I kept rooting for Imani to find her brother. I'll absolutely be recommending this to my fantasy-loving readers at my library.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Children's for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Thank you TBR and Beyond Tours for the chance to read and review Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

What do you do when your rose tinted glasses are pulled away?

Imani believes in the council and her brothers death. She believes in keeping Qalia a secret and her family’s honour and place in the clan. When all that is threatened by her brothers disappearance, she throws herself into her duties as a shield until her brothers horse leads her and her sister to his secret letters; starting a journey across the desert.

There are many things to like about Spice Road! Imani is a character that shows tremendous growth throughout the book. She doesn’t question the history she’s been taught; she’s secure in her position as an old clan member and expects members of new rising ones to seek her out; she believes her brother is dead; and that no one goes to sleep hungry at night in Qalia.

For Imani the entire journey is a rude awakening to her own privilege (her sister confesses to stealing for her friends because she knows she won’t be punished) and also the idea that isolation is perhaps not a good thing. This happens partially because of Taha who resents her privilege who has had to fight for what he had, as opposed to Imani who expected it. And yet, even as we understand Taha, we continue to resent him because the book is told from Imani’s perspective and he’s still the bad guy. Taha has to kill the boy who mentored him and anyone who learns about magic because he knows that if he messes up there are consequences because of his father. In turn, his father may not be able to hold onto his position because of Taha if the latter shows weakness. Honestly, a take from his perspective would be really interesting!

I loved the whole dynamic with Qayn and how that also pushes Imani into being better! Not just in terms of her skills but also her learning to respect other people. There’s one scene which really stands out in this regard, but I’ll let you read the book to find out!
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital Arc in exchange for my honest review. 

You guys this book was so good! I really loved the writing style and how the unique the world building and magic system are. 
I think my favorite thing about it is the growth the FMC goes through. At times although I understood her position I still felt annoyed with her thought process. I ended up loving her though. 

This is an amazing story about family and what lengths you would go to protect your family when they’re in danger. It is a story about privilege and how being privileged keeps people blinded from seeing the reality about situations. It is a story about personal change and growth. 

I know there’s kind of a love triangle but I’m sure Taha is the definite love interest. I really want to know why he blindly follows his dad and I need his redemption asap! 

4.5 stars
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The cover for this book is gorgeous and immediately drew me in.

I usually love YA Fantasy and so I thought this would be a slam dunk for me. 

The story itself was good but there was something about the writing style that kept me from really connecting to the story and I'm not certain what it is.

The characters were many and somewhat like a chalk outline.  Each character was defined but very simple. It took some time for any action to take place and within that time, there was explanations about a missing brother and interactions with unlikable characters.  

When action did take place, it quickly ended and the subject matter faded to the background of the story. 

There was fantasy and adventure but the overall story wasn't compelling enough to keep my attention for very long.
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Spice Road
by Maiya Ibrahim
Pub Date: 24 Jan 2023   

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim is vibrant fantasy, full of swords and sorcery !

Maiya Ibrahim, brings Qalia and Alqibah worlds vividly to life. This immersive enemies to lovers fantasy is set in an Arabian-inspired land. Full of Monsters and myths from Middle Eastern folklore.
We follow seventeen year old Imani, who is the the infamous Djinni-Slayer, the youngest member of the Shields, protectors of the city of Qalia. Imani is gifted with the magical ability to transform her ancient dagger into other weapons. Aided by a tea called Spice, who’s magical properties that comes from the ancient Misra Tree.
Her presumed treasonous brother Atheer, has been missing and assumed dead after his theft of misra. When things come to light he might not be so dead after all. When Imani and her younger sister, Amira are given information about their brother, they find themselves in a retrieval group set out to bring Atheer back. To much to her dismay Imira is paired with her rival Taha and his scouts. Together along with her sister, and a Djinni, who claims he has befriended her brother, they leave the comforts of everyone and everything they know to retrieve her brother.
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Thank you to the author, publisher, and Net Galley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.  

I enjoyed Spice Road and its action packed adventure across Arabian inspired lands. Imani is off to save her brother who was thought to be dead. That was until she came across a DJinni who told her other wise.  Imani is a Djinni-slayer who sets off with 3 others to bring her brother back. I love the world building and the action in this journey. I think it was a fun read.  I liked the way it ended, even though you know there will be 2 more books. I think Ibrahim did a good job of wrapping it up.
I will purchase this book for our High School library.
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3.5 stars, rounded up.

This is a bit of a conflicting review for me. This kind of story is right up my alley - a girl removing herself from the only world she's ever known and traveling to find her brother, thought to have been dead, all within an interesting fantasy world is exactly what I like to read. And the premise is really good, and the plot kept me reading. But I think that where this book falls a bit flat is with the characters.

To me, it seemed like the characters weren't quite sure of who they were supposed to be. Which, sure, sometimes characters are unsure, but me as a reader shouldn't be unsure about it. Unfortunately, Imani seems to fall into the "says she's deadly and talented but doesn't really show it" trope. Taha flipped back and forth with Imani a few times, making the fledgling relationship between them appear a bit more forced than intended, like it was there to put "enemies to lovers" on a tagline. I do like the idea of them together and was rooting for them at first, but think that their relationship could have more of an impact if it was delved into some more. I'm also not sure how I feel about the upcoming love triangle that was hinted at the end of this book. :/

I didn't have any big problems with the writing - for the most part, it had a good amount of descriptions and kept me engaged. I did find that some of the points got repetitive and that at times Imani would almost muse too much. But generally, I liked the writing. The chapters are fairly short too, which I always like.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and am interested in seeing how the plot progresses. I love stories with a focus on sibling relationships, so I found the ending of this book to be good, and am looking forward to seeing more interactions with Atheer.
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Top 5 Reasons to Read: 
1. Fierce FMC
2. Fascinating magic that is strengthened with tea
3. Standing up for the good of all people
4. Beautiful imagery and ceremony
5. Family love 

I really enjoyed this read and cannot wait to continue the series. Spice Road was full of twists and turns and never boring. I loved seeing the growth in Imani as she learned that there was so much more to the world than her sheltered perspective and she began to make her own choices about what she believes in
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Enemies to lovers to enemies again?? Only one horse? Love triangle? (And yes I enjoy them.) If bad why hot times 2? Yes, Spice Road has all this and more including a main character who shows growth throughout the story. Imani is strong and smart and capable but also experiences real emotions and feelings. She cries. She tries to give up more than once. She's forced to question everything she's ever known. She isn't always the most likable and sometimes I disagreed with her decisions, but that all served to make her a more complex character. 
I want to know more about all of the characters, I even found myself wishing for Atheer POV chapters (here's hoping for book 2). I'm interested to see where the story goes and what else is revealed in the rest of the series.
The book takes a little while to get started and there are some awkward phrases and stilted conversations, but once it gets going it improves immensely and I found myself drawn in.
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"We will fight, but first we will have tea."

This one hooked me with the first sentence. This book is so amazing! It's got everything - adventure, betrayal, mystery, monsters, politics, a little dash of family drama. 

Imani is stubborn and young but carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. For me, she started out a bit unlikeable - a kid who thought they knew the way of the world. But she grows so much, I ended up really loving her and rooting for her. 

I also really enjoyed the rest of the characters, especially Qayn. I am so intrigued by him and am hoping we will learn much more about his past in the next book.

Pacing was perfect. Medium paced and never dragging. And, as the first book in a trilogy, I think the story in this one was wrapped up really nicely. I'm dying for the next book but there was the perfect amount for me.

Synopsis:
Qalia is a blessed land with magic, but beyond it's walls, monsters lurk. Imani is part of the organization called the Shields, dedicated to protecting the people of Qalia. They drink misra tea to unlock their magical affinities. 

Her brother, Atheer, was also a Shield but has been missing for over a year. He was discovered to have been stealing misra. Most believed him lost to magical obsession and likely dead. Imani's sister, Amira, has been struggling since Atheer's disappearance. 

One day, Atheer's old horse takes off into the dangerous lands outside Qalia. Amira takes off to save the horse, and Imani follows to save Amira. But what they find changes their world. Atheer may be alive and he may also be revealing their magic to the world outside the desert. Imani makes a plan with the council to go as part of a group to find her brother and bring him home.
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"We will fight, but first we will have tea"

Spice Road is the debut novel of Maiya Ibrahim, and the first one in the trilogy of the same name. An Arabic setting gets mixed with tea-based magic in a beautifully written book, in a plot-driven adventure following Imani, a strong female main character, in the search for the brother she thought lost.

Imani is a Shield for the kingdom of Sahir, a magic-user soldier. After she and her sister have to chase her brother's horse, they get to know a Djinn that apparently has information about their disappeared brother; but not for a cheap price, forcing Imani to bind this Djinn to her blade, a kind of pact that is persecuted in the kingdom. Imani brings this information to the council, in hopes of being let start a mission that will take her across the sands; but she gets paired with her arch-enemy Taha and his scouts, with the objective of taking back her brother and incarcerating him.

Our protagonist starts a journey across the Swallowing Sands to the kingdom of Alqibah, getting to know so many lands that she hasn't even imagined before while looking to recover her brother. We are also spectators of how she evolves during the curse of this journey, how her relationship with the other soldiers changes, and how her vision of the world broadens.

The journey theme is an excellent way to portray different places in this Arabic-inspired world, using the eyes of Imani for it; showing how in reality Imani is not probably the most reliable narrator, as she's blinded by her prejudices, something that she will be losing during the journey. How the different places and manners get described is probably one of the best aspects of this novel, showing Ibrahim's strength in using the written word to create colourful and splendid images.

My main gripe with this book was mostly how irrational and angsty Imani behaved many times, and how little sometimes she learned from her mistakes. Despite the evolution of the relationship with the rest of the soldiers, there was always something that made it uncomfortable; personally, I found it difficult to connect with her. Outside of Imani, I found much more likable Qayn (the Djinn), as we can actually appreciate how he changes and how he gets to appreciate different people despite what his initial prejudices were. The rest of the soldier party was kinda okayish, and Taha gets the role of antagonist.

Plot evolution was hooking, especially after we get over the initial 10%, which I found too slow for my taste. It grows with the development of the journey, and at the end sets perfectly what can be the argument for the second book of the trilogy, while still being a satisfying ending.

In summary, if you are looking for an Arabic-inspired fantasy, with a strong MC, Spice Road is a great book for you. It is excellently written, showing an impressive ability to create images just by the use of words; and at this point, I just want to see the second part of this trilogy.
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I stopped this one not too far in. I didn't like the writing style. It felt like the author was trying too hard to write a certain way instead of writing in a way that made for a good reading experience. I thought the dialogue was cringey and hard to follow at times and there was nothing pulling me into the story.
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I had really high hopes for this book, but while I was reading, I kept going back and forth.

For one, I like the concept. The premise is strong, and there's a lot of elements of the worldbuilding that felt like they could be captivating - the magic from tea, the protected city of Qalia, all the different kinds of affinities, and the creatures and landscape of the Sands. However, these aspects weren't fully developed and that left me 1.) a little confused, and 2.) disappointed that they weren't explored further.

Moreover, while the plot was steady in pace (at least in the second half), the direction was predictable. It's like when you watch a new action movie and you know from the beginning the exact way the bad guy is going to lose, but you watch it anyway for the entertainment. I just like a little more surprise or uniqueness in my plots! Although, I will say that the ending did leave me curious about how the plot will progress in book two - there is opportunity for fun twists and surprises!

My second-to-largest complaint was actually the themes of colonialism, prejudice, privilege, and ignorance. Now, before you start screeching in complaint - I do think these are very valuable themes to explore. I loved the fact that Maiya Ibrahim took the opportunity to explore them and point out the issues in adhering to certain viewpoints. However, I found the discussion surrounding them a little heavy-handed. It's very obvious what the "right" opinion is, and there were a couple monologues describing why things should or shouldn't be the way they are. Call me whatever you'd like, but I prefer more subtlety with such heavy themes, and indeed, I find them more powerful when done so.

Similarly, Imani was very irritating as a main character. She was definitively privileged, spoiled, and ignorant. It was hard to like her as a character, but it was also hard to root for her change of view - moving from ignorance and pride to humility and awareness of others - because much of Imani's "change" happened in very cringey dialogue: "What?? They have people who are hungry here?? This does not happen in Qalia!!! Everyone is taken care of." And such. I found a lot of the dialogue in the book felt unnatural and like telling us things instead of showing them. (Like how Imani is a "very talented Djinni Slayer," but we never see this in action, we just hear about it.)

Which leaves my biggest qualm - the characters. I have already touched on Imani specifically, but even the rest of the characters were not my favorite. Taha came across as a bully and a fake, as he was only nice to Imani in private. Everyone acted so childish for being the "best of the best" of the Shields. Again, dialogue was used to tell and not show, so I felt like we didn't get as much depth on the characters as we could have.

All in all, this is a good debut. I enjoyed reading it, even with my qualms, and I will likely read the next book. I hope to see the author improving her craft as time goes on; she has the ability to create a wonderful fantasy story!
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Thank you for the advance review copy! 

Overall, I was disappointed by this read. It was one of my most anticipated releases of 2023 and I think that the subject matter is fascinating (tea magic! magical deserts! hot djinnis!) but not well executed. The plot was entirely predictable, the characters were two-dimensional, and because 50% of the story is a journey through the sands, it dragged until the second half of the story. 

Elements of the writing were beautiful, I think the author has a knack for world building and conceptually, the story would have been good if it were executed more effectively.
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Thank you Hodderscape for allowing me to read this in advance of my Fairyloot edition.

Where to begin!?
The pros:
I will say, M. I. Really knew how to write her world, culture, history and scenes. I really saw it when she was describing the people and the atmosphere of the poorer parts of the city which Imari has never seen and of course takes in more details than the average person thats been exposed to that inhumanity before. 
She wrote her family ties and love well, i will say that, no matter how annoying Imani is. 
Taha was a rollercoaster to read, he is definitely 2 faced and I’m not even super sure why the nice side was exposed when at the end of the day it meant nothing in his actions.

What I thought was meh
I definitely thought there could be more back story in the Qalia setting. Especially with Amira slacking off and somehow being friends with unsavory people. Imari knows that but what does that mean when she thinks no one goes hungry in this city??
Imari is definitely bull headed, her thoughts are the same as her blunt ignorant phrases, it screamed elitism. If that was on purpose, good for M.I. To the reader, some things seemed obvious and it felt like i was 2 steps ahead.
The side characters were falling flat, it was just Imari and Taha in this story, not even Qayn was really in this story, maybe 15% in the story. 
EVERYONE jumps to conclusions every time something new happens, gets tiring. Especially anything that deals with Qayn (Who never did anything he didn’t say he wouldn’t do).

OVERALL i would say the story and the brutality of a beautiful culture being slowly erased was written very well. The characters were lacking with a sprinkle of last second love triangle, but really, the original love story was toxic AF. I’d be more okay with this if Qayn literally was on the page longer than when Imari’s life is in danger, but most of the book he’s stuck in a knife completely off page.
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I really enjoyed this one and I'm looking forward to the next one in the series!!

Spice Road is seen through Imani's point of view, as she and several others embark on a journey to learn the truth of what happened to her brother Atheer. With this being said, you know only what Imani knows until things are brought to light and I really enjoy that, as it kept me on my toes trying to figure out what was going to happen next or how people felt, react, etc. I enjoyed that there are different abilities, or affinities, to Qalia's spice magic. To which Imani doesn't know how powerful some people are, including herself. Imani is often clueless of what is going on outside of her bubble as she grieved her brother for so long, but soon learns things across the Forbidden Wastes. There is some romantic tension between some of the characters, but is definitely not the main plot- but I'm excited to see what happens with that for sure!!

Overall, I would definitely recommend this, especially to those who enjoyed The Stardust Thief and We Hunt the Flame! I'll definitely be on the look out for the next book, I gotta see what happens with the ending of this one!!
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Thank you to Random House Children's, Delacorte Press for an eARC of Spice Road! 

Fast-paced, an incredibly unique magic system, and full of adventure and betrayal at every turn. I was on the edge of my seat wanting more with every passing chapter. Eye-opening and full of important lessons, this is one fantasy novel you won't want to put down after you've picked it up! The writing is incredibly well done and it's hard to believe this a debut novel! I can't wait for the next installment of the Spice Road trilogy already!
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