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The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi


The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi

Shannon Chakraborty returns to the helm following her critically acclaimed Daevabad Trilogy to chart a course across undiscovered waters.

Set in the 12th century, THE ADVENTURES OF AMINA AL-SIRAFI was written as a love letter to old travelogues and literature of the medieval Islamic world. Chakraborty crafts a story to read across many nights, the atmosphere ever shifting from reminiscent to the makings of a modern epic. The pages are flooded with swashbuckling adventure, a lovable and flawed crew with bonds that are as tight as family, and the deceptive nature of stories themselves.

Captain Amina al-Sirafi was a smuggler, a pirate and a rumored sorceress serving up human hearts to her sea-beast husband. At least that is what the world says. The truth? Amina has found peace in retirement, motherhood and her Muslim faith. It has been years since she has taken a life, and her past is kept where it should be --- buried. This is all in an effort to protect her daughter, Marjana, who has origins that are too dangerous to be known by the world, especially her father.

"I dove in every night, consumed by the well-researched historical details that colored the world and enchanted by the journey. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for those who, like me, have a fascination with pirates."

However, this peaceful life is challenged by the appearance of an older woman with knowledge of the once-feared captain of the Marawati. Her son, Asif al-Hilli, had served on the same ship under Amina and often wrote about her. She comes with an offer of a million dinars if Amina agrees to return to the seas and find her 16-year-old granddaughter, Dunya, who was kidnapped two months ago by a former mercenary with no ransom or any attempt at contact.

Amina tries to refuse multiple times. She doesn’t need the money, would rather not rack up more enemies, and knows that going back to such a life would only endanger her loved ones. But she owes Asif’s family a debt, for Dunya is an orphaned girl left fatherless at Amina’s hands (in a way). Besides, a million dinars is a lot.

What follows lays the groundwork for a typical heist story as Amina reunites with her old colleagues. Here we meet an array of wonderful personalities with chapters to establish each: my personal favorite, Dalila, a master of poisons; Tinbu, who is great at striking deals with criminals; Payasam, Tinbu’s cat, who cannot catch mice but is an endearing presence; and Majed, the navigator, who had been like an older brother to Amina before their mysterious falling-out and his pursuit of a life on the straight and narrow.

They all return to the deck of Amina’s first love, the Marawati, a gorgeous and swift vessel passed down by her grandfather. However, this job does not end up being as straightforward as they would have hoped. On their journey they face violent magic, betrayal, revelations of lies upon lies, unpredictable meetings with Amina’s (literal) demon ex-husband, and battles against giant marids. If any of this sounds enticing, I can promise you that it is indeed a heart-racing adventure and extremely fun to read. Nothing is as it seems, and just when you think you know the charted course, a storm is waiting on the horizon to flip those preconceptions on your head.

Chakraborty takes a risk with form. The entire book is transcribed as Amina recounts her life. There’s a lot of fun fourth wall-breaking and self-awareness from this style, along with an admitted tendency to exaggerate some things as this is a story meant to captivate. Amina’s voice is vibrant, charismatic and laced with dry humor.

I am a huge fantasy reader, and it’s rare to find a female protagonist over the age of 40 who takes such an active role in the narrative. Still, Amina is allowed to make mistakes and be selfish, to want and desire, and she is not villainized for that. She fears that she is a terrible mother for wanting to embark on this quest away from her family. Even at long distances, Marjana is always in the back of her mind, and ultimately every sacrifice and step into danger is to provide her daughter with a better life.

I dove in every night, consumed by the well-researched historical details that colored the world and enchanted by the journey. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for those who, like me, have a fascination with pirates.

Reviewed by Eleni Karavoussianis on March 4, 2023

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi
by S. A. Chakraborty