Welcome to my first ever advance reading copy (ARC) review! ARC reviewing has been a goal of mine since starting Ristra Reads and Recs, and I hope that this is the first of many.
For my initial ARC review, I chose to read Crowning Soul by Sahira Javaid. I chose it because of its diverse array of characters, particularly its Muslim heroine. Own voices Muslim representation in fantasy is important, and I want to highlight it whenever I can.
Crowning Soul is Javaid’s debut fantasy, and it will be published on September 8th, 2020. The premise of the book is that teenaged Nezha has been hiding a secret, which is her ability to control fire. Despite this power, she is able to lead a relatively normal life until one day, when a jinni comes for her. From that point, she is thrust into a new dimension called Noorenia, where she has to face a horde of problems.
Javaid has a talent for writing about magical creatures.
If you love your fantasy stories to be chock-full of magical creatures, then this is a book for you! There are so many magical creatures in Crowning Soul that it’s hard to remember them all. To name a few, there are jinn, unicorns, and dragons, oh my! I can tell that Javaid really had fun including these creatures in her story, and they make the book vastly more interesting. Every time a new character is introduced, it is always a delight to find out what kind of creature they are. It’s never safe to assume that someone is just human.
The villain is convincing, and the side characters are memorable.
The Iron Prince and the jinn are well-conceived in a lot of ways. They are evil and frightening without being flat. While I was reading the book, I constantly questioned their motives and was interested in their arcs independently from how they impacted Nezha’s storyline.
Additionally, the side characters, particularly Sapphire and Thunderbolt, are memorable. They are magical talking unicorns, for one. But they are also worthy companions for Nezha as they traverse the world of Noorenia and encounter one evil creature after another. With their funny remarks, they help bring some levity into the story.
The story is fast-paced.
The story was always moving, and the characters are never doing the same thing for long. This is a novel about, among other things, a journey through an alternative realm, and epic journey stories can fall flat when authors fail to continuously throw new action and adventure into the mix. Javaid understands this, and always has a new twist and turn for the story.
Nezha is a great example of a Muslim woman in fantasy.
We need to see more positive portrayals of Islam in fantasy books! More hijabi heroines, please!
Javaid has written a proud Muslim heroine in Nezha, free of stereotypes, and her identity shines brightly throughout the book. Nezha’s Moroccan background is also celebrated, even as most of the book takes place in Noorenia. I appreciate that Javaid took the time to include details from Nezha’s culture, such as mentions of what she eats. Small details like this helped to pull me into the story.
The biggest problem with the book is the writing, which unfortunately creates other problems with character development and world-building.
Javaid writes her characters broadly. Throughout the book, it feels like she knows where she wants the characters to end up, and what stops they need to make in order to complete their journey, but she doesn’t always do a good job of providing details or motivations for them. There are many times in the story when a character makes a decision without any second thought, or decides to travel somewhere or do something without any real explanation as to why. This makes it hard to empathize with any character. For example, I feel nothing about the relationship between Nezha and her love interest, because Javaid’s writing doesn’t show me that I’m supposed to. If a reader doesn’t understand what drives a character, doesn’t understand why they’re making certain decisions, a lot of the story regrettably falls flat.
Furthermore, Noorenia begs to be described in greater context throughout the book, but it somehow never is. Even just a few more sentences of description whenever Nezha travels somewhere new would really improve the world-building.
Overall, I give this book a neutral rating.