*I received an ecopy of this book via NetGalley. This has not influenced my review.*
I’ll start by saying I had concerns this might be too “erotic romance that just kind of happens to have a djinni” for my taste. Something about the cover and blurb just gave me that vibe. But my love of djinn won out, I decided to give the book a try, and luckily my concerns were unfounded. Despite the romance being the focus, the book didn’t have a typical romance feel, it wasn’t full of sex scenes, the djinni aspect was a very integral part of the story, and it was the complexity of the characters and their situation that made this book stand out.
The whole book had a mysterious, ominous, serious feel. The writing was just the right amount of lavish and elegant to fit the story. The historical settings were richly and vividly depicted (I especially loved the depiction of Cairo, even though the time spent there was very brief). This is an author who clearly can write.
I did feel, however, the book could’ve been more polished or trimmed. There were some brief forays into POVs that didn’t seem necessary. There was sometimes too much description for my taste. There were scenes when “less is more” might’ve worked better (like the torture scene). None of these things were terrible, they mostly just slowed the book down. Also, this is the first in a series, but the book still ended in kind of an abrupt spot.
Something I loved though was this author’s version of djinn! They weren’t human. They could turn into mist and shapeshift. They had magic. They could be bound to objects and turned into wish-granting slaves by sorcerers. And the descriptions of Yasir’s appearance, clothes, and home inside the urn were so beautiful. I didn’t understand all the rules governing Yasir’s magic since he was bound but could also do magic of his own free will, but that doesn’t mean there were no rules, it just means I didn’t know what they were.
Last but certainly not least… These characters were not likeable people, but I found myself not entirely blaming them for the bad things they were doing, and that was my favorite aspect of the book. Their situations were not black-or-white, and I loved that they gave me such mixed feelings. (The section below contains mild spoilers, and if you already know you want to read the book, you may find more enjoyment in getting to know the characters on your own.)
Yasir did some real shady, not ok things. Namely he messed with people’s heads by casting spells to make them forget or to make them act/feel differently in order to get what he wanted. But I would expect no less from a vengeful, enslaved djinni on a mission. Djinn are not human, and I’m ok with supernaturals having a different moral code. I still found myself sympathizing with him for being tortured and enslaved and ripped away from his family and his lover. I could understand why he’d do bad things if that’s what it took to have a chance to get his love and his freedom back.
Lavinia wasn’t innocent in all this either. She was cheating on her husband. But again, I could understand why. She was also Thalia, so there was a part of her that knew and was drawn to Yasir and kind of meant to be with him. Although I don’t condone cheating, I do understand it in this case. And as I said, Peter never treated her as a person who was his equal, so she deserves better anyway, although it’s kind of yet to be determined if Yasir is actually better.
I also want to mention one thing that could make some people uncomfortable and give some content warnings. *POSSIBLE SPOILERS* There were times when I couldn’t tell what was Lavinia’s feelings and thoughts and what was Yasir’s magic influencing her, but I think that was the point. From Lavinia’s POV, it makes sense that if she didn’t realize she was being spelled, we wouldn’t know for sure either. So that was good writing. It did make for some blurred lines of consent though. There was also teenage pregnancy and graphic/on-page depictions of torture, rape, and domestic abuse. *END SPOILERS*
Overall, while I did have a few complaints about the pacing and some things that could’ve been trimmed, I loved the mixed feelings these morally gray characters gave me with their whole complicated situation, I loved the portrayal of djinn, and I definitely think this author can write. Plus, it seems like the plot is going to get more intense and interesting in the next book!
Anyone who likes morally gray characters, slow-paced stories, historical settings, and djinn.