The Adventures Of Amina Al-Sirafi: Putting Sea Fantasy Back On The Map

It’s been just about six months since River of Silver proved to be more than just outtakes and deleted scenes, meaning that another new release from Shannon Chakraborty — given publishing timelines, and HOW LONG it takes to write a book — is honestly quite incredible.

While The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi does not take place in the familiar Daevabad universe, lovers of that series will find plenty to adore within this ‘more realistic’ setting. I put quotes around ‘more’ and ‘realistic’ simply because you can google more of the locations and settings in this tale and come back with actual locations on a map (and if the sheer number of sources listed in the research note at the end of the book is anything to go by, this book is accurate. Or at least as much as can be). Have no fear however, there is still plenty of magic, monsters and mayhem to recall her earlier works.

TAoAA-S (Wow. It might be easier to type out the full title then attempt this acronym hah!), also showcases Islamic myth and legend but its scope encompasses other mythologies and religions such as Christianity and the polytheistic religions of ancient Greece and Egypt (and probably more that I’m not familiar with). We see the familiar (to Chakraborty fans) references to Djinn and Peri, Marid and Daevas, but mixed within are references to items like the Golden Fleece, a statue of an Ibis headed-man (Egyptian god Thoth), and even Nephilim – which I originally thought might reference the Norse realm of Niflheim, but appears to be a kind of giant within the Hebrew Bible.

In many ways, this story probably could have been told as another Daevabad book, but I felt the choice to ground it ‘in the real world’ actually allowed Chakraborty to open up her imagination even further, scribing new versions of these fantastical creatures, and connecting them to history in a way which made them feel even more awe inspiring and amazing.

And of course there was also all the sailing and swashbuckling.

At first glance TAoAA-S is an adventure story in the spirit of Treasure Island or Master and Commander in that it involves sailing, there’s pirates, and of course treasure. We taste salt from the spray of the sea, and hold our breath trying not to look down as we scale some dubious rigging up to the crow’s nest.

But we need look no further than Amina herself to begin seeing the inversions and commentaries which make TAoAA-S stand apart from these ‘classics’, and move firmly into its own category. Indeed, while the main character of TI, Jim Hawkins, is only twelve or thirteen, Amina is middle-aged with a daughter and a bad knee. She has already been the subject of a coming-of-age story, and honestly, seems a little worse for wear because of it. However, she has made her own way in the world, one that does not give many opportunities to any women, let alone those who do not have nobility in their blood.

With this casting of Amina as a kind of feminist Sinbad-the-Sailor it would have been very easy for the story to lose the sense of fun and wonder that adventures stories embody, or retread the territory too precisely and become cliched or derivative. TAoAA-S does neither, instead walking a careful line and managing to come through the other side with a fresh take which does not disparage a beloved genre, but reminds us how fun Adventure stories can be.

Read it?

Absolutely. The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi is perhaps my first 5 star read of 2023. Its world is deep with magic, myth, and monsters, made all the more engaging for their grounding within our own world/history. And of course the adventure itself is thrilling and fresh, looking at a classic genre through a new lens without disparaging any of the tropes and cliches we know and love. And of course Amina, a breaker of skulls as well as conventions, is a hero we can all point our children to some day, or aspire to be like ourselves.

That’s all I have for today. Has anyone else read this one? What was your favorite part? Which creatures stood out to you the most? Were there any historical easter eggs which sent you down a wikipedia hole (there were many for me lol)? Can we consider the marid a kaiju? haha.

Leave your thoughts in the comments! Looking forward to discussing this one with y’all!


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