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The Sandsea Trilogy #1

The Stardust Thief

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2022)
Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant: a criminal who, with the help of her jinn bodyguard, hunts and sells illegal magic. When she saves the life of a cowardly prince, she draws the attention of his powerful father, the sultan, who blackmails her into finding an ancient lamp that has the power to revive the barren land—at the cost of sacrificing all jinn.

With no choice but to obey or be executed, Loulie journeys with the sultan’s oldest son to find the artifact. Aided by her bodyguard, who has secrets of his own, they must survive ghoul attacks, outwit a vengeful jinn queen, and confront a malicious killer from Loulie’s past. And, in a world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything—her enemy, her magic, even her own past—is not what it seems, and she must decide who she will become in this new reality.

Inspired by stories from One Thousand and One NightsThe Stardust Thief weaves the gripping tale of a legendary smuggler, a cowardly prince, and a dangerous quest across the desert to find a legendary, magical lamp.

538 pages, Kindle Edition

First published May 17, 2022

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About the author

Chelsea Abdullah

3 books1,219 followers
Chelsea Abdullah is an American-Kuwaiti writer born and raised in Kuwait, where she grew up listening to stories about mysterious desert creatures and wily (only sometimes likable) heroes.

Consumed by wanderlust, she has put down roots in various states. After earning her MA in English at Duquesne University, she moved to New York, where she currently lives. When not immersed in her own fictional worlds, she spends her free time playing video games, doodling characters, and hoarding books she doesn’t have the shelf space for.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,606 reviews
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.5k followers
June 11, 2022
this is such a stunning adventure!

one that weaves lush mythology and vibrant world-building to create an immerse narrative that you wont want to leave. it does an amazing job of incorporating the tales from ‘a thousand and one nights’ within a fresh and engaging plot. and the characters are such exciting travel companions every step of the way.

i have been desperate for something to fill the void that the end of ‘the daevabad trilogy’ created, and this fits perfectly. i cant wait for this series to continue!

such a massive thanks to orbit books for the ARC!!

5 stars
Profile Image for Jasmine.
260 reviews285 followers
June 15, 2022
The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah is an epic start to a trilogy inspired by One Thousand and One Nights.

Loulie al-Nazari, the Midnight Merchant, began illegally hunting and selling ancient relics after losing her family. With the help of her jinn bodyguard, Qadir, she has built up her reputation on the black market selling these sought-after relics.

In the city of Madinne, the sultan has decreed that jinn be hunted and killed for their blood and relics. There is one relic, a legendary magical lamp, that the king has coveted for some time. Since his Forty Thieves have been unable to locate it, he blackmails Loulie into searching for it with the assistance of one of his sons.

Together, a jinn killing member of the Forty Thieves, a prince, a jinn in disguise, and the Midnight Merchant set out to find this powerful lamp. Nothing will come easy for this unlikely group. They’ll face countless obstacles and betrayals long before the end of their journey is in sight.

This Arab-inspired fantasy alternates between three perspectives. The writing style is very captivating and held my attention all the way through. The setting and the world-building are so vibrant, and the descriptions of food are so scrumptious.

The beginning was a tad slow, but the rest was evenly paced, balanced between quieter and action-packed scenes. All of the characters grew on me, especially Qadir and Aisha.

I liked that the characters had to work for everything; they didn’t just instinctively know what to do; they had to fight tooth and nail every step of the way. It kept things realistic (as realistic as a fantasy novel can be).

The ending left off on a major cliffhanger. I cannot wait to see how the world expands in the next instalment.

4.5 stars.

Thank you to Orbit Books for providing an arc via Netgalley and a physical copy in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for hiba.
259 reviews373 followers
April 6, 2023
this was such an underwhelming read, i barely have anything to say about it.

everything about the stardust thief was simply serviceable. there was a plot, there were characters, there was a magical world - it was certainly a book! if an incredibly mediocre one. it lacked the complexity i've come to expect from adult fantasy - characters, plot, worldbuilding were all okay, nothing wrong with them exactly, but they were just too simplistic, predictable and surface-level for my taste. the characters felt so one-note and passive, like the plot was only happening to them instead of them doing anything significant to drive the action forward. the writing felt geared towards a much younger audience, like middle grade level - again, very simple and plain.

the relationships were all pretty superficial and boring except for loulie and her jinn bodyguard qadir - their adopted child/parent bond was so genuine and sweet, it kept me from completely giving up on this book.

i wish so badly i could've loved the stardust thief as much as i loved its premise but it turned out to be too uninspired and forgettable for me, and i doubt i'll read the sequels. however, if you're a newbie fantasy reader looking for a light beginner adult fantasy, i'd recommend this! it's also heartening to see an arab adult fantasy by an arab author and i can only hope this is the gateway to better ownvoices arab fantasy books being published in the future.

thank you to netgalley for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Shelley Parker-Chan.
Author 5 books3,341 followers
November 23, 2021
This gave me life! This is the kind of story you can give yourself over to, knowing that it knows how stories work. “Trust me,” it says, and though you’re in a knot of fear and hope—that secret! that lie; that slow burn!—you do. And it doesn’t let you down. I came to care so much about everybody, especially Qadir (jinn bodyguard and all-around Best Boy). The interstitial stories, magnificently told in the style of 1001 Arabian Nights, were delightful. I read the whole thing in a single evening—this is epic fantasy as a page-turningly good time.
Profile Image for gauri.
195 reviews457 followers
June 4, 2022
The Stardust Thief is a fun book, with a great magic system and worldbuilding accompanied with good action. But I'll be honest, I skimmed through it after bearing to attentively read the first few chapters.

For a premise that had me excited, the book turned out to be average as a whole. I loved the worldbuilding the most, all the storytelling, jinns and history involved with references to Arabian Nights kept me going through the book. The characters were interesting too, Mazen might be a loser but he's my loser, Loulie and Qadir's relationship is a favourite aspect in the book and Aisha was simply intriguing.

I wish I had more good stuff to say about it but the book quickly lost its grip on me. Mainly because of the length which dampened the excitement of the plot reveals. The Stardust Thief has unnecessary scenes and monologues inserted in places that demotivated me to continue reading. There was something exciting happening at a point and followed by boring pages that threw me off. The average writing didn't help to keep me hooked either (which as other reviewers have said, reads like YA fantasy, certainly not the standard what I expect from an adult fantasy).

Not sure if I'm interested enough in the other books of the series but for readers looking for a fantasy by an Arab author with a captivating quest and great setting, I'd recommend this to you. Especially if you're looking for something in between YA and Adult fantasy!

thank you Netgalley and Orbit Books for the ARC!
Profile Image for B.
120 reviews12.2k followers
March 20, 2023
“If there is only to be one more tale tonight, let it be the one about the storyteller who changed her fate with her fables. Let it be a story about stories and the power they have to sway mortal hearts.”

This book was… so good, with enough plot twists and magic and stories that even though it was a long book it felt fast. And the writing?? So so good. I honestly can’t even put all my thoughts into words yet, but I just needed to say I loved this lol
August 26, 2023


After reading it:

I will settle on a 3-star rating (3.5) for this one. It definitely was a serviceable desert fantasy but considering how good the last part was compared to its dragging middle, this book could have benefited from more editing. The characters were okay, but lacked the details and nuance of an Adult book, which made it read somewhat like a middle-tier YA Fantasy instead. Despite that, while reading this, I felt like I was reading a better version of a certain book titled We Hunt The Flame (which I rated one star).

The short stories was definitely my favorite part of the novel. The setting was beautifully described and I wanted more of its lore. Even though I usually tend to prefer more descriptive fantasy writing, I think the author still did a great job to make me feel and picture the places she created. Maybe that will be more touched on the sequel. Who knows?

If solely based my opinion on the first half, I would not continue on with the series, but the last part of the book ended up being engaging enough. Although, I do think all the revelations could have been dropped bit by bit throughout the entire book instead of saving all of them for the end.
Profile Image for Southern Lady Reads.
442 reviews589 followers
May 23, 2023
I'm DNFing this one. So much world-building and the story wasn't bad, but I had such a hard time getting myself to pick it up and have so many books to read.. the writing just wasn't keeping me engaged. I plan on coming back to it!

↑↑ Update - May 23rd, 2023 ↑↑

So far, I'm about 50 pages in and the best thing about this book is the balance between storytelling and world-building!

***This was a BOTM pick last November that I just hadn't gotten to, and I've been loving all of my Book of The Month picks recently. Learn more about a Book of The Month Club subscription here. (It's not a referral link, just FYI. 😊 I wrote a blog post on why I truly think Book of the Month Club is the best book subscription box!)

So many times, authors get wild with the world-building in the first book of a fantasy series and it takes away from the plot.

↑↑ Update - Started May 11th, 2023 ↑↑

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Profile Image for Nils | nilsreviewsit.
331 reviews507 followers
December 1, 2022
“Let us speak of lies and truths, and of the story hidden between them.”

Neither here nor there, but not so long ago a tale of jinns, magical relics, desert landscapes, ancient ruins and characters on a perilous quest captivated me whole. The Stardust Thief is a spectacular debut novel by Chelsea Abdullah.

In a barren land where jinn are hunted for their life-giving blood, where their magical relics are made illegal to possess, a merchant of many names reluctantly embarks on a journey where if she succeeds it will both save and destroy all that she loves. Loulie al-Nazari, the Midnight Merchant, Layla to some, is the infamous seller of rare jinn relics, a criminal by rights, but one who by the help of her jinn bodyguard has managed to elude the attention of the sultan’s soldiers. That is until one day unbeknownst to her, she saves a prince from jinn possession and her location is revealed to the sultan himself. After her capture he offers her a choice, be executed or agree to embark on a quest to find the rarest of relics— a magical lamp with the power to restore nature to their lands by annihilating all jinn.

What follows from there is a thrilling journey into the perilous Sandsea desert, where Loulie, Qadir her bodyguard, the sultan’s oldest son and his most trusted warrior-thief Aisha, face attacks by ghouls, a fearsome ancient jinn and The Hunter in Black.

Abdullah presents a world where beauty and horror coincide. The jinn were feared and hunted because of their immense power, yet the humans exploited that power at every opportunity. Magical relics were a commodity both bargained and sought after, illegally traded or gifted to the sultan. Jinn were murdered with iron swords for their silver blood which miraculously brought nature to barren lands. A luscious garden filled with scented flowers and waterfalls may have been a sight to marvel over but it would signify the death of a jinn. This prejudice against jinn was fuelled as tales of their merciless killing of humans circulated through generations, but what of the humans’ cruelty to jinn? What of their suffering? They are after all living legends, do they not too deserve a place in this world? Abdullah poignantly reflects this notion through the rich and layered history of her world, and her characters show that all is not as history tells and there are some who sympathise.

Loulie al-Nazari, being one. Her entire tribe murdered, she was left as the sole survivor amidst all the bloodshed. Yet it was a jinn who saved her. Qadir’s destiny leads him to find Loulie, cowering and clutching desperately to her father’s mysterious compass, and from that moment their lives become entwined. Loulie and Qadir’s relationship is beautiful, these are two people who essentially are lost, they run from their past in the hopes of escaping the pain, escaping their memories. Loulie gives Qadir a purpose in life, to protect her and guide her, and in turn Qadir gives her a purpose too, for the compass leads them to jinn relics, which turns our Loulie into The Midnight Merchant. Facing your past takes courage and through the course of the novel Qadir and Loulie both have to take this journey. Abdullah shows us that strength comes in many forms, and sometimes relying on others to help you, being able to show your emotions and finding a purpose in life when you’ve lost all takes a significant amount of courage. Female characters do not always have to have physical strength to be strong, sometimes admitting your vulnerabilities is a strength all on its own and I truly resonated with this. Loulie and Qadir depend upon each other, they have a truly endearing father daughter-esque relationship.

“Some things are out of our control. You know that just as well as I. All we can do is make choices based on the cards fate deals us. But so long as fate allows me to stay with you, I will not leave you, Loulie. That is a promise.”

Having said that, if you’re looking for feisty female warriors, well Abdullah has us covered here too. Aisha bint Louas is one of Prince Omar’s, the sultan’s oldest son, Forty Thieves. Having witnessed her family killed by a jinn, her hatred for them has festered, it has boiled to the point where revenge is all she can see. It is this hatred which drives Aisha to be a fearless jinn hunter, to dive head first into any danger, to let her knives carve through every jinn who dare face her. Pure rage can only get you so far though, and as much as she would rather close herself off from others, to forsake morals, to never trust, she begins to learn not everyone is an enemy to defeat. Sometimes tough choices are to be made in order to survive. Which is essentially what Aisha is, a survivor.

The notion of identity is one of the central themes explored throughout The Stardust Thief as the characters all go by various names with differentiating personas. It is perhaps Mazen though who seeks his identity the most as his entire life he has been sheltered, unlike the others. The sultan, his overbearing father, all but keeps Mazen a prisoner within the palace; it may be a luxurious place to be kept in, but as Mazen himself states it is nothing more than a ‘gilded cage’. Resorting to sneaking out, Mazen roams the streets of Madinne in search of some freedom and of his beloved storytellers who remind him much of his late mother, Shafia. Though as events escalate for Mazen, he may just regret ever wishing to be free of his confinement. Throughout the novel Mazen is forced to face who he really is—is he gentle bookish Mazen, a coward who runs from danger, who hides in the shadows, or is he someone who faces his fears to save others? Or could he follow his heart and be the storyteller who enchants an audience with his mother’s tales and his own? Whatever Mazen was and whatever doubts he harboured, I felt he proved he was anything but inconsequential.

“Adrenaline pushed him forward, through the trees with twisted, sharpened branches and past the skirmishes between the living and the dead. Every fight was a desperate clash; the living fought to stay alive while the dead single-mindedly sought to kill.”

Abdullah ultimately celebrates the love of storytelling, particularly the tradition of oral storytelling. Throughout the novel there are interludes where characters will share stories of jinn kings, of legendary figures, and magical relics. She injects a deep-seated layer of history, culture and mythology to her worldbuilding with an enchanting flair. The Stardust Thief is heavily inspired by One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), a collection of folklore from Arab and Middle-Eastern culture. We see parallels between the sultan and his storytelling wife Shafia, and through Omar’s Forty Thieves, and the various mythological beings; however, Abdullah adds her own twist. She illustrates that the art of storytelling has its flaws, as over generations those stories change, they become more exaggerated or altered to incorporate people’s prejudices. To counter this Abdullah offers us visions and memories which collide and seem disjointed at first, but she cleverly builds a tapestry to reveal the truth behind the myth.

At its heart The Stardust Thief is a magical tale of unlikely heroes and thrilling quests, of chaos and bloodshed, of love and loss, all told through Abdullah’s dreamy prose. This is a book where everyone has a story to tell but the truth may dispel the very illusion that has been believed for centuries.

“Some people hide their scars; I prefer to wear mine like badges. They remind me of everything I survived, and of who it is I must seek revenge against.”

ARC provided by Nazia at Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the copy! All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Profile Image for Natasha  Leighton .
450 reviews175 followers
May 3, 2022
4.5 stars
The Stardust Thief is a beautifully written and utterly transportive One Thousand and One Nights retelling by Chelsea Abdullah who—in breathing new life into the classic, epic quest fantasy genre, with her endearing characters and gorgeously detailed world building—has reignited my love of all things adventurously quest-like.

In a land where Jinn are hunted for the magic in their blood and where their enchanted relics are illegal to possess, Loulie al-Nazari (the infamous Midnight merchant and seller of rare magical items) and her Jinn bodyguard embark on a quest to find a magic lamp. An item that—if found— could save or destroy everything Loulie loves most.

In this world where story is reality and illusion is truth, Loulie will discover that everything-her enemies, her magic, even her own past- is not what it seems, and must decide who she will become to survive in this cutthroat reality.

I loved just how easy it was to lose myself in this magical world, the depth and complexity of the characters was amazing and I loved just how intricately their lives become as the story (and the action) progresses— the execution itself was beautifully subtle but exquisite nonetheless!

The incorporation of folklore throughout was also really lovely, and though her name isn’t expressly mentioned, I loved how prominent Shahrazad’s story (the storyteller who’s clever stories save her life and win her the heart of a Sultan) was, with her son (and his passion for thre oral storytelling tradition) being one of the main focuses of the plot. The stories are so vividly detailed and truly capture that magical sense of wonder you feel when hearing a really great, immersive tale that you return to again and again.

The characters were all super compelling; I loved the Midnight merchant, Loulie she’s smart, witty and incredibly strong, even if she doesn’t see herself that way—she’s a survivor just Aisha and Mazen (to some extents) and I loved just how their shared childhood trauma ultimately bonds them all in a way—bringing them closer to each other.

Mazen’s emotionally conflicting arc was superb but it was the Jinn we encounter thst really stole the show for me— the complexities woven into their magic and history was fascinating and I honestly can’t wait to see where this goes in the rest of the series.

If you love a plot twist, then you’re gonna be pleased as there’s soo many plot twistingly good, jaw-drop worthy moments that kept me coming back for more. And, like the eponymous Sultan eager for Shahrazad’s tales , I was desperate to find out what would happened next— there were many sleepless nights spent devouring Chelsea Abdullah’s lush, magic infused prose (I honestly never wanted it to end.)

Overall, this enchanting epic fantasy is a book you definitely want to get your hands on ASAP, trust me fantasy lovers—you’re going to love it!

Also, thanks to Orbit and Netgalley for the e-arc.
Profile Image for Chantal.
578 reviews384 followers
August 17, 2022
Officially DNF'd halfway through; personal opinion that I found it a bit boring; just not for me 🥺
Profile Image for Lexi.
512 reviews225 followers
March 20, 2023
The Stardust Thief was my most anticipated release in 2022 and to some extent, it did live up to the hype. Let's break it down.


♥️ Fairy tale retelling
♥️ No romance
♥️ Jinn/human friendships
👍 Multi POV
👍 Morally good characters with a touch of grey)
♥️ Adventure story

Quick recap: The Stardust Thief follows a seller of illegal magic (Loulie) as she is coerced into retrieving a magic item by the Sultan. She travels with the sultan's son in disguise (Mazen), as well as one of the oldest prince's 40 thieves (Aisha) and her Jinn partner.

This is first and foremost an adventure book. It's written with the same cadence as recent released like The Jasmine Throne or The Unbroken, but the execution itself is actually a little closer to Shadow of the Gods or a Sanderson book. Don't pick this up expecting massive character studies, flashy politics, or epic romance.

If you are looking for a book with sweeping, epic action scenes and incredible magic, you are going to love The Stardust Thief. If you love storytelling within a story, monsters that can be friend or foe, and Arab folklore this is your story.

The story follows beats from One Thousand and One Nights and weave these tales in seamlessly. Its so beautiful seeing these fairy tales come together naturally and revealed over the course of the story. Some are told as tall tales by main characters, but many are actually written into the bones of the book, with different characters playing different roles from folklore. This also influences the spirit of the book's storytelling.

You have a ton of action scenes and moments where our heroes are stopped in their travels to deal with monsters, evil humans hiding in the shadows, spoiled royals, and more. Again, these moments are perfectly woven into the fabric of the plot.

The characters might be my biggest disappointment, but I want to be clear that they are by no means bad. There are 3 POVs, and each character is relatively predictable and played safe. They are all incredibly charming and likable, each with great and distinct voices, but there are not a lot of risks taken with the characters. Aisha, the elder princes thief is probably the most complex character in the bunch, but she can also be a little more tedious to read because her motivations are relatively ignorant and her main focus is revenge. Mazen is a cowardly, kind prince inspired by his mother's storytelling. He will be quite popular with some readers but I was not very interested in him.

Loulie is a wonderful baby angel, and her relationship to Qadir is unquestionably the strongest relationship in the book. They have a beautiful bodyguard codependent friendship going on and their moments together are the hi light of the character interactions.

None of these characters connect too much and you are mostly watching them deal with their own problems, which can. be disappointing at times. They do become something a little closer to friends later in the book, but the character relationships are not the focus of the story. I say this because going in knowing that can help manage expectations so you can enjoy the other great things The Stardust Thief has to offer. As a side note, there was no romance which I absolutely LOVED, because if romance comes later it will be EARNED. If the book plans on not having any romance at all, that is also awesome. Either way, more books where nobody gets together in the first book!!!!

The book is named after Omar, the eldest prince and the villain of the series. Im actually most intrigued to learn more about him..particularly because the book is named after him; but he is also set up as one of the more layered characters.

If I had one thing I would say i'd like to see improve in book 2, it would be for Chelsea Abdullah to take a few more risks or develop some of her darker characters. There is so much potential here and despite my criticisms, this was a genuine joy to read cover to cover. Its a very strong debut and i'm fairly confident I will be following this author's career moving forward (including the next installment of The Sandsea Trilogy).
Profile Image for Basma.
174 reviews
April 15, 2022
Actual rating: 4.5

Okay, this book. Prepare to be SICK of me. I'm going to be insufferable now that I've found more Arab rep. I will simply never shut up about it.

Let's talk Arab/MENA rep. I can count on one hand the books I feel represented in as an Arab. This book is an EXCELLENT addition to that list. I tabbed every word of Arabic and ended up running out of tabs. There's a thrill in seeing the words you speak on the pages you're reading. It never gets old. This book DELIVERED on Arab representation. Like the names of the characters in this book?? Are the names of my brother, my cousin, my friends. I felt seen and ready to take on the world after reading this. BRB gonna go prep my Loulie cosplay.

The book itself is a solid debut. The characters are fantastic (I am officially a Qadir stan) and their dynamic on page was so fun to read. While four POVs might sound like a lot, I truly enjoyed every single one and seeing their perspectives of each other is refreshing. I will say, I am SO here for the dramatic, lowkey himbo, main guy character trend that I've been seeing (first Kamran from This Woven Kingdom, now Mazen). If this is the YA community moving away from the "dark and broody", consider me on board.

The strongest aspect of this book is the world and magic system. It was developed so well and the references to old legends (as well as actual stories inserted) made for a magical and rich reading. I understood the magic system really well, and the reveals were done nicely. I did get a little lost with the plot at one point (hence the 4.5 rating) but the twists and turns were fun to read, even when I was ready to throw my book across the room.

Highly recommend preordering this one!

TW: violence, murder, manipulation, grief, possession, captivity, torture

I received an arc of this title from Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for sam.
387 reviews599 followers
March 10, 2023
— 4.5

23/02/2022: I want the sequel. I need the sequel. sequel when hello?? also mazen my cowardly insecure goofy adorable prince ily

» thank you to orbit and netgalley for the arc !!

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Profile Image for Nicole.
749 reviews1,935 followers
July 29, 2022
I was excited to read this book once I read the premise. It's inspired by the middle eastern methodology and written by a Kuwaiti author. I honestly didn't have very high hopes but I was intrigued to say the least since books featuring this theme are rare.

I'll summarise my opinion on this book through bullet points:
- it started good enough, the atmosphere was interesting and the foundation for the characters was well placed.
- although the characters are adults, it gave me major YA vibes (not necessarily a bad thing but better know this beforehand in case one wasn't a fan of this style).
- the magic was too vague - I'm no fan of this in fantasy.
- the characters were okay, but none were memorable. Aicha was probably the best-written character
- using Arabic words I understand was super cool since well, I get the meaning, but was surprised when some keywords weren't translated. For example, when someone took the "makhraj" which translated to exit. It would've been helpful to the reader.
- the book was mostly fast-paced but I was still bored? the story wasn't very gripping to me, unfortunately.

the book was overall fun but nothing I'd remember. It was a light fantasy read and I needed that since I was reading a heavy fantasy book on the side. It could've been much better with more complex characters and a better-structured story. More points to be added later!
Profile Image for Alieke .
165 reviews15 followers
February 24, 2023
Neither here nor there but... I loved this.

It's a great retelling and I loved the characters. I have this section in my book bujo where I write down my favourite and least favourite character of a book and I honestly had trouble choosing both because all the characters were so GOOD.
Not morally good (because who ever likes those, really). But just great, well-written characters.

Some random ratings:
Found family: 10/10. Loulie and Qadir made me feel safe.

Worst possible choice of character to kill: 5000/10.
"You said my name,"
Honestly, of all the characters that one had to die?? I mean, I get it. but also no.

Cover: -1000/10 I don't like purple.

Planning and plotting: 10000/10.
"She began formulating a plan. Step 1: avoid getting devoured by sentient darkness".
I mean, seems like a solid plan to me.

Storytelling within the story: gazillion/10. Mazen honey, you can come and give me a bedtime story anytime.
Profile Image for nabila.
25 reviews
July 28, 2022
Rating: 1.5 stars

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC!

The Stardust Thief is an adult desert fantasy written by an Arab-American author. I requested the book on a lark, mostly because I was interested in Mazen, the character described as a cowardly prince. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have picked this up. So when my request was granted, I didn’t have the highest expectations. But I still figured it would be a fun-enough way to spend the time.

The thing is, this book is painfully boring. Every time I tried to start reading, it felt like there was a weight on my chest, one that would not go away until I decided to do something else. Everything in this book feels like it’s already been done before. The characters were sketched out archetypes. Everyone has their set role. The setting, which I would call vague at best, is very YA: we have our kingdom with its requisite evil king. The book seemed like an adventure fantasy, but it took more than ten chapters for any real action to start.

Every narrative decision the author chose takes us on a boring route. To use a relatively spoiler-free example: we find out in the first chapter that the main character Loulie met her djinn companion Qadir after her entire tribe was killed. Fantasies often use flashbacks of a main character undergoing a traumatic event in order to garner sympathy from the audience. I wish that we had gotten something like this because the beginning scene we do get (Loulie working as the Midnight Merchant) is so unremarkable that I tried to describe it here and realized I couldn’t remember it at all.

The biggest reason why I consider this book YA is because the characters lack nuance. Each of the mains fill a certain role, have certain abilities, etc. etc. I’m sure you could fill out a character sheet for each one of them, but they never felt real to me. The side characters are no better, but there were crumbs of potential. Once in a while, I would see an interesting dynamic that didn’t fit the YA cliches, such as the one between Aisha and Omar, and then it would get pushed to the side. Specifically, I wish the dynamic between Omar and Mazen had more complexity. They’re brothers, but there’s no sense of history or weight behind that relationship.

Months and months after receiving this ARC, I finally managed to skim my way through. The fables scattered throughout the novel did catch my attention (I particularly enjoyed the one about the Queen of Dunes) and, as with most fantasy novels, the action at the climax was exciting enough. This book is a debut, and the writing style reflects that. It’s very straightforward, more telling than showing. As a result, it provoked little more than mild curiosity in me, and even that was fleeting.

The Stardust Thief “technically” deserves 3 stars because it seems like the author did what she wanted to do here. I think it would be a good transition fantasy for someone who wants to ease from YA to adult. However, I read fantasy for a sense of the fantastical, the sense of wonder that comes from being immersed in a unique world with multilayered characters. This book felt more like color-by-numbers.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
444 reviews200 followers
August 20, 2022
Overall impression of this book:
HUMANS: I'm so weak! I can't do anything!
SUPER POWERFUL JINN: No, no, you're strong! You're a survivor!
Bad things happen. Humans are weak and can't do anything. Super powerful jinn swoops down and saves them.

...and repeat.

This is undoubtedly an unfair assessment of this very earnest Arabian Nights-inspired story, and yet there it is. A whole lot of, hmm, not so much deus-ex-machina as jinn-ex-reliquia - many apologies to my Latin teacher for no longer remembering my declensions, not that jinn is a Latin word to start with.

The Stardust Thief was just an okay read, well short of good but not for lack of trying. It feels more like YA than adult fantasy both in character and theme. There's Loulie, a young woman with a tragic past who now makes a living as the mysterious Midnight Merchant dealing in magical relics; Mazen, the gentle son of a sultan who engaged in serial uxoricide until a certain storytelling woman came along; and Aisha, a thief and agent of Mazen's sketchy older brother Omar. Loulie and her enigmatic bodyguard Qadir ger blackmailed into going on an impossible quest for a lamp containing a powerful jinn; improbably enough, the sultan's son is sent with them.

The background is actually pretty cool, and I appreciated the insider perspective on culture and traditions from American Kuwaiti author Chelsea Abdullah. The backstory of why human and jinn are at war is interesting, as is the truth behind the magical relics.

But man, are the characters dim. "Huh, let me follow a powerful jinn up to no good into an abandoned building!" "Whoops, I forgot an extremely dangerous and valuable relic at the party!" "Let's separate and catch up later as we navigate a treacherous and magic-filled scenario!" The villains are flat, and the protagonists, though they have potential to be interesting (Mazen, the unheroic prince, in particular), are all tell and no show. I can't figure out why everyone's in love with Loulie, who comes off as angry, glare-y, and unpleasant.

The writing's serviceable at best. You may not be annoyed by the excessive sighing, grinning, mouth quirking, eyebrow cocking, eye twinkling, and smirking, but I'm cranky about things like that, and once I start noticing them, my eye is magnetically drawn to them all the way down the page. Can't anyone just talk?

2.5 stars, rounding up for sheer earnestness and good intentions. I'm not on board for the rest of the trilogy.
Profile Image for Brenda Waworga.
606 reviews680 followers
June 19, 2022
“We all starts as cowards. The only difference between a hero and a coward is that one forgets their fear and fights, while the other succumbs to it and flees”

Enchanting, adventurous, magical, absolutely a fun tale and to think about this is A DEBUT?? WHAT??? are you kidding me Chelsea Abdullah??? 😱😱🤯🤯

Inspired by Arabian culture and of course the famous 1001 nights story… this book took me to a grand adventure about Jinn, magical yet terrifying relics that have their own story and power, kingdoms, dune and SO MUCH sand, loveable strong characters, found family and of course A LOT OF MAGIC! i devoured this book in 2 days which is pretty rare for me since the book is 460ish pages long ( i ussually can only read 50-100 pages a day) which is always a good sign cause it means the book hooked me 🪝

There are 3 POVs here:
- Loulie al-Nazari, a merchant with a Jinn bodyguard name Qadir
- Mazen bin Malik, a prince who don’t know how to fight but has the love and talent for storytale
- Aisha bint Louas, a cold but strong fighter, thief and Jinn killer

Despite all their flaws i love them three and i love how very different their voices are! not like *cough* some books that have multiple POVs but own the same voice and personality, i also really love how Abdullah created her own tale and mixing it with 1001 nights story-tale SO EFFORTLESSLY and match perfectly with the plot, i think it’s absolutely brilliant! The friendship story between Loulie and Qadir is so sweet and i really enjoyed their banters, the PLOT is really fast pace like gaaah it’s really unputdownable mostly because the writing style is also very engaging (like wth again how is this a debut book?), i ussually not enjoy travelling story but i love it here, so yaaay for that!!!

I honestly can gush about this book forever but i will stop now 🫠 for i need to suffer to wait the second book NOOOOO, the ending is pretty cliffhangery and i’m dying to know what will happen next 😭

highly recommend this book if you’re looking for Arabian / dessert inspired story 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼
Profile Image for fatma.
922 reviews651 followers
Shelved as 'dnfs'
May 17, 2022
DNF at 35%

Didn't think that I'd DNF one of my most anticipated releases of the year, but here we are.

There is nothing egregiously wrong with The Stardust Thief, but that's exactly it: it felt so very average. It falls short of the mark for me in terms of both plot and character, but not so much that it's completely unreadable or actively bad. Everything is just competent enough that I could've pushed through it if I had had the patience, but I simply didn't. I can tell this wouldn't have gotten more than a 3 stars from me, maybe even less than that.

As I've seen some readers point out, this feels very YA--which is not an issue in and of itself if you tend to read and/or enjoy YA, but I generally don't, so there's that. More than a matter of genre or audience, though, I just felt like The Stardust Thief was simplistic in its execution. The characters are drawn in very broad strokes, and the plot only serves to push them along the narrative without really leaving enough space for them to breathe. I wanted more from this narrative: more complexity, more development, more layers. And The Stardust Thief maybe has the beginnings of all of that, but as it stands, it didn't deliver any of those things for me. I really wanted to like it, and I really did give it a chance, but reading it felt like such an uphill battle; at a certain point I realized that I was actively forcing myself to keep reading it, and then I knew that it just wasn't going to be the book for me.

Plenty of people have loved this, though, so it's really going to depend on what you look for and tend to enjoy in your fantasy.

Thanks so much to Orbit for sending me an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!
March 19, 2023
Do you remember Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Shahrazad the storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights and master of Jinni of the Lamp?

This is it, only here we have Omar, King of the Forty Thieves; Shafia, sultan's late wife; and Layla who lost her parent!

Twenty years old Loulie al-Nazari (her birth name is Layla) is a Midnight Merchant, an esteemed magic seller. She and her partner in crime, Jinn Qadir have a compass that could lead them to anything and sell not very magical relics to fools.

Mazen, sultan's second son, had been only twelve years old when a jinn had killed his mother. The reason his father is killing Jinns and his brother Omar, High Prince of Madinne, the great Jinn killer, the most feared hunter in the desert.

Aisha, not a hero, but since she’d picked up a blade, promised to kill them all, anyway. She is one of Omar's forty thieves, loyal and talented!

An impossible mission ties Layla, Mazan and Aisha's destinies to each other. Sultan wants a myth relic, the legendary lamp!

"What else would a power-hungry fool want but destruction?"

You may find it interesting to know we have ghouls, an invisibility cloak and the Stardust Thief is Omar's title: A man who stole jinns' lives. A killer dressed in silver blood. color of Jinns blood!

An entertaining read, a little flat and unengaging with unconfident characters but promising for the next book.

Thanks to Orbit via Netgalley for DRC, I have given my honest review.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,206 reviews3,198 followers
May 14, 2022
4.0 Stars
This was a fantastic epic fantasy series inspired by the author's Middle Eastern heritage. 

This novel had all the elements I love in fantasy. An epic story, complex characters, and rich world building. There is some romance in this story, which is not always my favorite thing but I liked it in this case.

For a debut, this book was incredibly strong. The prose was strong and the story was well plotted. I am now impatiently waiting for the second book. 

I highly recommend this fantasy series to a wide range of readers. This is one of the best 2022 fantasy releases I have read so far.

Disclaimer I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Christina Pilkington.
1,535 reviews163 followers
May 18, 2022
If you like The Daevabad Trilogy, I think you will adore The Stardust Thief! Both series have the same gorgeous desert settings, magical djinn, and characters you will come to love…or hate.

In The Stardust Thief, we follow three POVs. My favorite POV was Loulie al-Nazari, the Midnight Merchant, who hunts down and sells illegal magic. Her jinn bodyguard, Qadir, is so loyal and sweet he’s easily one of my favorite characters! But he also has a lot of hidden secrets, making him intriguing and mysterious. When Loulie helps save one of the sultan’s sons from a powerful jinn, the sultan blackmails her into traveling with his oldest son to find a powerful lamp that will revive the barren lands but will also destroy the lives of jinn.

I also loved Mazen’s POV. Mazen, the youngest son of the sultan, longs to escape the confines of the palace and go on adventures. He’s obsessed with listening to stories and is a talented storyteller himself. He grows so much within this first book. I am excited to see where he will be at the end of the trilogy.

The last POV belongs to Aisha, one of the eldest prince’s Forty Thieves. While not my favorite character, she is complex and dynamic, and she’s plays a big part in the plot of the story, especially toward the end. I have a feeling she might even replace Loulie as my favorite character before the story ends.

The novel is structured where there are separate short stories nestled between the main chapters. I loved this part of the book so much! They bring so much texture and life to the main plot. Part of the plot is also heavily inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, and it’s retold in a way that I’ve never seen done before.

I found the book perfectly paced with just the right amount of action, character development and world-building moments. I adored learning about the djinn magic and mythology and political structure. I’m most excited to explore more parts of this world and learn more about certain character’s backstories and powers.

I’d highly recommend this book if you enjoy desert setting fantasies, characters that learn and grown throughout a series, and a perfect blend between character growth and plot development.

*Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit Books for the digital advanced reader copy.
Profile Image for Roz.
351 reviews209 followers
August 9, 2022
5 ⭐️


I’m literally crying so much because I feel so represented right now.

The Arab/ MENA representation was so good!! their names! the Arabic words and phrases! THE FOOD MENTIONED!!!!

I’m in love with this book and the author, WHO IS AN ARAB WOMAN!!! I cannot wait for the next book in this trilogy and I will be reading anything written by Chelsea Abdullah from now on.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,201 reviews3,672 followers
November 30, 2022
3.5 stars

Join me on Patreon to see my reading vlog: https://www.patreon.com/posts/7531582...

The Stardust Thief is a debut fantasy novel inspired by 1,001 nights and integrating Arabic language. For me this was a bit of a mixed bag- some things I liked, other things that fell short of what I was hoping for.

Positives: the setting is well-described and evocative, the use of jinn mythology is cool, and the ending is fantastic with some big twists and revelations. I also loved the parts that are stories being told within the text.

However, the pacing is inconsistent with a compelling start, a middle that drags, and a fast-paced blockbuster ending. I think if some of the information reveals that are all at the end had been seeded throughout the book, it would have helped. The characters are okay, but lack depth and nuance. The only relationship I was at all invested in until the very end was the one between Loulie and Qadir (her jinn bodyguard of sorts).

Here's the thing- if this had been marketed as a YA title, I would have said it's a very strong debut, despite the failings mentioned above, and a promising start to a series. I hate the way people always assume fantasy written by women is YA, but in this case the book genuinely reads like YA. Which is fine, but if I'm reviewing it as an adult fantasy title, I'm looking for more. More interesting, complex characters with deeper character work and growth arcs. More depth and maturity to the themes and politics. And this is not to say that YA fantasy CAN'T have all of those things (because sometimes it does), but I don't go in expecting them. But this was sold as an adult title and as such, it feels very safe and maybe a bit bland.

That said, I think if the setting and story type sound like your thing and you go in with the right expectations, you could really enjoy this. I had a reasonably good time reading this and the ending was great.
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