Imani is a Shield, tasked with protecting the desert-swathed kingdom of Qalia from the monsters that patrol the dangerous, surrounding sands. With an affinity for metal granted by the magical tea that gives Imani’s people their magic, her ferocity and talent has earned her the nickname of Djinni Slayer.
But Imani is only following in the footsteps of her older brother, Atheer, who was once a great Shield too. Now, though, his reputation is ruined after he was accused of stealing Qalia’s tea, sure proof to the rest of the world that he wasn’t who they thought he was. More than anything, Imani wants to know why he did it—but Atheer vanished a year ago, believed to have died in the desert, and the answers he might have provided gone with him.
When Imani stumbles across Qayn, a djinni who claims to have known her brother, she’s torn between her duty as a Shield and her desire to uncover what really happened to Atheer—a decision made all the more difficult when Qayn tells her that Atheer was smuggling tea magic to the people beyond the desert, people who, according to all Imani’s been taught, aren’t even supposed to exist.
Alongside Qayn and Taha, an arrogant Shield who has been Imani’s longtime rival, she sets out across the desert to uncover what really happened to Atheer before he endangers her home. But when what she’s been raised to believe and her beloved brother’s ideas are in conflict, who can Imani believe?
Spice Road is an atmospheric, evocative, and fast-paced fantasy adventure perfect for fans of intense, worldbuilding YA books like An Ember in the Ashes. The world of Qalia immediately pulled me in; the uniqueness of magic-infused tea and the difficulties which came with it—like needing to drink the tea frequently for power to be maintained—felt utterly natural and fully realized, a far cry from many fantasy magic systems that are unique in concept but contrived in execution. But even more than the magic, I loved the blend of a seemingly utopian society and its entrenched prejudices, two sides to this country which played out beautifully through its varied characters and the conflicts which rose organically between them through their wildly different views on the same society and its institutions. This natural, authentic interplay honestly sums up the characters of Spice Road; from the first page, Imani’s conflict and determination helped carry her struggles and journey throughout the story. But the characters are always at their best when interacting with others, because these conversations and conflicts serve to develop each of them and reveal the unique prejudices, views, backgrounds, and relationships which make them come alive so vividly. I’m already looking forward to the sequel! Detailed and absorbing, I highly recommend Spice Road to readers ages thirteen and up.