Trigger warning for physical abuse and anti-transgender language.
Razia Khan has found a place where she can finally be herself. Unfortunately, the price of freedom is that she steals of the guru of her dera, a house for hijra courtesans. Not only does Razia have to steal from clients, she has to do it with a smile on her face, beautiful dancing, and negotiable affection. Stealing Thunder, by Alina Boyden, is the electrifying beginning of a series featuring Razia, a trans woman who was born as the crown prince of one of the most powerful empires in an Indian-inspired fantasy world.
We meet Razia on a typical night. She and her sister have been hired to entertain for one of the wealthiest men of the city. Officially, Razia is there to dance and catch the eye of rich men. Unofficially, she’s there to steal a gaudy golden peacock statue for her guru. The theft of the peacock and similar objets is the price the guru charges for keeping Razia’s identity secret. If word got out, Razia’s father would send assassins to kill her. The emperor of Nizam will not stand for the humiliation of having a transgender child. Razia has managed to keep herself free and safe for four years. But on the night that we meet Razia, everything is about to change. The night we meet her, Razia meets the love of her life, who turns out to be the local prince—and finds out that he’s been dispatched to find out who has been stealing from his wealthy citizens.
Razia turns out to live a charmed life. Even though the stakes keep rising throughout the novel, Razia’s prince and his money smooth a lot of paths. Arjun is a dream man. He is kind and he falls deeply in love with Razia, so much so that he stands up for her against his initially prejudiced father. All he asks of Razia is her love and devotion. Razia, for her part, falls as much in love with Arjun as he is with her, and is happy to pay this new price for freedom and safety. Their relationship is so perfect that I had to roll my eyes a couple of times, even as I cheered them on.
I’m not sure which half of Stealing Thunder I liked more. In the first half-ish of the novel, we see Razia’s life in the precarious world of a hijra courtesan. Their clients aren’t always kind, and the hijras frequently face scorn and spite when they go outside of the dera. Razia’s guru is greedy and more than willing to dangle Razia’s secret to keep her golden goose producing treasure. In the second half of the book, after Arjun sweeps his lover off her feet, we land in more traditional fantasy fare. Razia gets to reclaim skills she thought she’d never use again once she ran away. Before long, Razia has a reputation for her brilliant strategic mind and daring plans. Again, Razia’s success had me rolling my eyes a bit while still cheering her on.
I had forgotten that I’d requested Stealing Thunder and why when the titled came up on my reading schedule. I started reading it because it was short and would help me keep up my numbers while I read the gargantuan novel, The Eighth Life, by Nino Haratischwili. I feel like I’ve unintentionally insulted the novel by using it that way because this book was a great escape from the news and from heavy (but still interesting!) historical fiction. I enjoyed every page of this imaginative, beautiful ride of a novel and I plan to recommend it to all my reader friends who like adventurous and original fantasy.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.