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Historical Fantasy Review – The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

Review by Cyndi J. (cyndij)

A very fun fantasy set in the medieval Middle East, really the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, around the time of the Crusades. Amina al-Sirafi is a doting mother, living in a ramshackle hut on a remote bit of land. But Amina wasn’t always poor. She wasn’t always on land either. Amina used to be a nakhudha, the captain of a pirate ship, and she was almost legendary. At least until the horrific death of one of her crew sent her ashore. The birth of her daughter made up for a lot though.

The arrival of a rich woman looking for the pirate Amina is something of a shock. There’s a kidnapped granddaughter at stake, a sad story that tugs at Amina’s heart. The promise of a million dinars for the rescue is too much to give up, and Amina says she’ll look into it.  It isn’t going to turn out quite the way she expected.

The action starts up almost immediately as Amina goes to visit her old ship and finds its crew, and her good friend Tinbu who’s now the captain, in jail and about to be executed.  Getting him out will take the help of Dalilia, a master poisoner, but it won’t be easy nor quiet. Not to mention that her client hasn’t quite told her everything and is now threatening to have her little family killed if she doesn’t follow through. Fleeing for safety, Amina brings them up to speed on the quest and, of course, they’re going to stick together.

There’s magical artifacts, a demon husband, many more pirates, numerous magical beasts, a sorcerer with horrible powers, treasure caves, and the granddaughter who knows a lot she shouldn’t about spells and magic.

Told from Amina’s POV within the framework of a scribe (whose identity becomes gradually clear), it’s a rollicking nail-biting ride through a semi-historical time and place we don’t see much of in English print.  I wish the glossary was more extensive, but most of the unfamiliar words are easy enough to figure in context.  I loved the little inserts from the scribe’s POV. The imagery and descriptions are first-rate, it’s like watching a movie in your head.  The dialogue is excellent – Chakraborty hits the funny notes just right.  The characters are memorable, with Amina and Raksh the most fleshed out.  I wished for even more of Amina’s three crewmates  but it worked.   You’ll also catch themes relating to some of today’s societal issues.  Amina, Delilia, and Dunya are women outside the norm for that age – they have courage, ambitions, and are not content to be hidden away.

This is the first of a new series. It’s delightful and I highly recommend it.




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