Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim – Review

Published: January 24, 2023

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Series: The Spice Road Trilogy #1

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Pages: 464 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.0 Stars

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

In the hidden desert city of Qalia, there is secret spice magic that awakens the affinities of those who drink the misra tea. Sixteen-year-old Imani has the affinity for iron and is able to wield a dagger like no other warrior. She has garnered the reputation as being the next great Shield for battling djinn, ghouls, and other monsters spreading across the sands.

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother, who tarnished the family name after it was revealed that he was stealing his nation’s coveted spice–a telltale sign of magical obsession. Soon after that, he disappeared, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes. Despite her brother’s betrayal, there isn’t a day that goes by when Imani doesn’t grieve him.

But when Imani discovers signs that her brother may be alive and spreading the nation’s magic to outsiders, she makes a deal with the Council that she will find him and bring him back to Qalia, where he will face punishment. Accompanied by other Shields, including Taha, a powerful beastseer who can control the minds of falcons, she sets out on her mission.

Imani will soon find that many secrets lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes–and in her own heart–but will she find her brother?

The first book in an epic fantasy series set in an Arabian-inspired land with secret spice magic. Raised to protect her nation from the monsters lurking in the sands, sixteen-year-old Imani must fight to find her brother, whose betrayal is now the country’s greatest threat.

Spice Road is a debut young adult fantasy novel following Imani, a young woman who has garnered quite the reputation as a djinni slayer. She lives a comfortable life in the hidden desert city of Qalia and as a Shield, she is charged with protecting her city and the secrets it holds, particularly that of the magical misra. Though she is from an old and wealthy family, her brother’s death and her younger sister’s actions have somewhat tarnished the Beya family name. When Imani discovers that her brother may be alive and helping rebels in the outside world, she and a group of Shields set out to bring him home so that they may keep their secrets safe.

I was drawn to this book by its promise of spice magic and hidden desert cities and I generally enjoy Arabian-inspired fantasy books filled with djinn, endless dunes, and lush magic. Spice Road has all of these things and more and it was an entertaining, though somewhat frustrating read. Frustrating because Imani was the stereotypical uber talented main character who we are told is the next great Shield and totally brilliant all the while disproving this at every turn. Imani makes foolish decisions and acts rashly and, while she may be talented with the blade and her iron affinity, she’s lackluster in all other areas. 

Half the book (or more) was spent leaving Qalia and traveling through the magical desert to Alqibah. There were a few moments during the journey that were thrilling and served to deepen the lore, but largely it was Imani trying to look cool and unconcerned by her traveling companions. Because of course, she’s with other Shields that look up to Taha, a talented beastseer, instead of her and she secretly harbors a grudging crush on Taha. Upon arrival in Alqibah, the characters make a series of foolish mistakes that could have easily been avoided and are quite clumsy and then they go on a daring and equally harebrained rescue mission to save Imani’s brother. 

I think this could have been a great book with some additional polishing, but as it stands it’s just good. I also recognize that I’m not the target audience for a young adult novel and I do think this book handles topics like colonialism in an approachable manner. I would have loved some more lore from Qalia and Alqibah and proper development behind the Harrowland empire so they weren’t just a paper cut-out of a villain. This is a planned trilogy, however I probably won’t continue on with the series unless I see some seriously rave reviews.


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