In Loulie’s world, magic is a scarce commodity. Its rarity not only affords her a decent living through trading magical relics but also has helped her build a fearsome (and therefore protective) reputation as the Midnight Merchant. Magic is rare in Loulie’s world because it comes from jinn, who have been hunted for centuries. Few people have ever seen a jinn, let alone their magic. And that’s where Loulie’s other secret comes in: her friend and bodyguard, Qadir. The two seem content living on the margins at the beginning of Chelsea Abdullah’s vibrant debut novel, The Stardust Thief. So when the sultan summons the Midnight Merchant to deliver a mission she can’t refuse, Loulie is more than a little miffed…and scared.
The Stardust Thief is one of those immersive, beautifully three-dimensional novels that picks readers up and carries them away into its story. We join the story as Loulie and Qadir are dealing with a wealthy merchant, who needs jinn blood to restore his lost eye. Scene set and magic introduced, we follow Loulie back into the city only to bump into another major character, Mazan, a prince who likes to listen to storytellers while incognito. I can’t sing Abdullah’s praises highly enough for the way she blends plot and exposition and character development in The Stardust Thief.
The unrefuseable job offer from the sultan turns out to be a journey to the lost city of the jinn, to find a lost relic with unimaginable power. Oh, and to make sure that Loulie doesn’t just disappear into the desert, the sultan informs her that his other son, the formidable jinn-hunter, Omar, will accompany her. Except, Omar has his own plans afoot and has worked out a way to swap places with his much more peaceful brother, Mazen. There are layers and layers of plot here, made all the more enthralling when we start to learn everyone’s secrets.
There is so much to enjoy in The Stardust Thief that it’s hard to say what I loved best about it. I adored the characters, especially the fierce Loulie, the story-seeking Mazan, and the conflicted warrior sent to accompany the group into the desert, Aisha. The plot is original and excellently paced. But I think what really does it for me in this book is the world-building. The world Abdullah created feels rich and lived-in, in a way that I’ve found rare in fantasy novels. There’s a sense of history to Loulie’s world, developed from snatches of folklore, clothing, and customs over the course of the book, that has real weight. I just want more of it and am going to have a very hard time waiting patiently for the next entry in the series.