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Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim – ARC Review!

In the hidden desert city of Qalia, secret spice magic awakens affinities in those who drink the misra tea. With an affinity for iron, seventeen-year-old Imani wields a dagger like no other warrior, garnering her the reputation as the next greatest Shield for battling the dangerous djinn, ghouls, and other monsters that lurk in the sands beyond city limits.

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother who tarnished the family name after he was discovered stealing their nation’s coveted spice – a tell-tale sign of magical obsession. He disappeared soon after, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes, and leaving Imani reeling with both betrayal and grief.

But when Imani uncovers evidence her brother may be alive and spreading their nation’s magic beyond the desert, she strikes a deal with the Council to find him and bring him back to Qalia before he can reveal the city’s location. Accompanied by Qayn, a roguish but handsome djinni, and Taha, a powerful beastseer whose magical talents are matched only by his arrogance, they set out on their mission.

Imani will soon discover there are many secrets that lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes – and in her own heart – but will she find her brother before his betrayals endanger the fate of all of Qalia?

In the hidden city of Qalia magic runs free thanks to misra tea that, once drank, can awaken the magic in those with the affinity for it. Imani has an affinity for Iron able to expertly wield and mould her blade into any weapon she desires. But her prowess is somewhat overshadowed by the actions of her brother, Atheer. Named a traitor and thought dead, Imani has to live in his shadow, but when she uncovers evidence suggesting he may be alive she strikes a deal with the council to bring him back to pay for his actions. Imani wants to bring her brother back peacefully, but there are others accompanying her who have different ideas. The council fear that Atheer has been telling the outsiders about Qalia & it’s magic & will do anything to keep their people safe. Imani has some difficult decisions to make, decisions that will pit her against those she loves, but when she ventures outside of the City and see’s what lies beyond the Forbidden Wastes she will have to decide whether to follow her heart or her head.

This book was so bloody brilliant! Everything I love in an epic fantasy; magical beings, slow burn enemies to lovers romance, an intricate and well built magic system, amazing world building, some truly epic magical fight scenes & brilliantly written characters. Imani comes from one of the founding clans of Qalia and as such has had a lot of her life handed to her. She lives with blinders, not able to see the suffering that surrounds her, assuming that everyone is as lucky and well off as her family. She starts off a little haughty, a little too stuck to the company line, but throughout the story and, with a little help from some friends, she starts to see the error of her ways. She’s stubborn, but also fiercely protective of those she loves, and once she finds proof that Atheer might be alive, will do anything to protect him, even if it means going up against and questioning the council.

Imani embarks on her journey with a bizarre group of people. Taha, a powerful beestseer who is able to meld with animals and control their actions. His father is currently the head of the council and puts Taha in charge of the mission, believing Imani to be too emotional to see clearly. Alongside them are two other members of Taha’s team, both of who look down on Imani and see her as a traitor based solely on her brothers actions. And then there is Qayn, a djinni who initially gives Imani hope that her brother might be alive. He is someone we learn about thoughout the story, getting little hints at his past as well as the reason why he agreed to help Imani in the first place.These all make for an explosive journey filled with heightened emotions, plenty of danger and a little humour. But one of my favourite characters was Amira, Imani’s little sister. Someone she see’s as an annoyance, but she is the one to make Imani question her world views, who allows her to look outside of the rhetoric the council has sold her & makes her start to question why things are the way they are.

Ibrahim certainly isn’t afraid of a little action and I did find myself loving these scenes, especially when we got to see the different kinds of magic being used. She keeps us on our toes, throwing in plenty of plot twists to keep us guessing, and ensuring the story flows. Her writing brings her worlds, both Qalia and Alqibah to life and I loved seeing them through the lens of Imani, Someone who is a little privileged and extremely sheltered. Imani is so sure that when she leaves the protection of Qalia she will see people different from herself, but what she finds are a people so similar they could be related, people whose language is so close to her own, she could understand it with little help. This throws her whole world view, and she starts to question everything she has been told & starts to grow into someone with their own opinions, not just someone who follows the rules to the letter. Ibrahim weaves in Arabian folklore with fables from the world she has created & I loved all the little stories & how they helped build her world.

There was a brilliantly slow burn, enemies to lovers and back to enemies plot throughout the book. Initially, I wasn’t the biggest fan, but the more time I spent with them, the more I appreciated their interactions. He makes Imani question her world view, making her realise that she leads a life of privilege that not everyone is afforded. But he is also your stereo-typical cocky male who doesn’t like having his own world view challenged and I felt that, while Imani grew massively throughout this book, he never really grew at all. Their story doesn’t end tied in a neat bow, instead the author has left it open and i’m intrigued to see where she will take it in the next book.

It’s safe to say I adored this book. It was the perfect escapist fantasy, but with plenty of emotion and heavy moments threaded throughout. If you love delving into new worlds, complicated characters and plenty of action & romance then look no further. I cannot wait to get my hands on the second book.

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