The Book of Wonders by Jasmine Richards
Magic, Djinn, Ogres, and Sorcerers. Thirteen-year-old Zardi loves to hear stories about fantastical beings, long banned from the kingdom of Arribitha. But anyone caught whispering of their powers will feel the rage of the sultan—a terrifying usurper who, even with his eyes closed, can see all.
When her own beloved sister is captured by the evil ruler, Zardi knows that she must go to any lengths to rescue her. Along with her best friend, Ridhan—a silver-haired, violet-eyed boy of mysterious origins—and an unlikely crew of sailors led by the infamous Captain Sinbad, Zardi ventures forth into strange and wondrous territory with a seemingly impossible mission: to bring magic back to Arribitha and defeat the sultan once and for all.
I was initially drawn to this book because the author seemed to take the tales of Aladdin, Sinbad and others from One Thousand and One Nights and changed them up a bit to create her story. In fact, I was so intrigued that I actually suggested it for purchase at my local library. I’m glad they took my suggestion, because this was a really fun, middle grade book.
Zardi, short for Scheherazade, loves hearing stories about the times when magic was plentiful and abundant in the land of Arribitha. But those times are gone, ever since the evil sultan, Shahryar, came to power and forbade anyone from even talking about magic. When her sister, Zubeyda, is taken to be the sultan’s next praisemaker – a job that always results in the girl’s death – and her father is imprisoned, Zardi and her friend Rhidan must seek out Sinbad, and hope that the sailor’s tales of lands faraway are true. Together they’re all thrust into an adventure that none of them saw coming.
This was a really fun book that used the tales of One Thousand and One Nights in a very interesting way. Zardi was a downright fantastic female lead: she’s tough, stubborn, and unwilling to give up. Her friendship with Rhidan is first rate, too, and I liked the way they complemented each other. While I’m familiar in passing with the story of Sinbad, this was an interesting look at his character, and definitely tarnishes the legend just a bit. Zardi is unrelenting in her search to save Zubeyda, and is willing to face danger after danger in order to ensure her sister’s life. While the adventures were fun (and dangerous!), it was her spirit that really made me love this book. She was just a really perfect narrator.
I will say that this book took me far longer to read than it should have, because I stopped midway through to read a whole bunch of other things instead. This is not a knock on the book – I was thoroughly enjoying it – but it does suffer a bit from what I call the “non-stop action” affliction. Zardi and the others certainly had to deal with a lot in this book.
Also, a word of caution, this is very clearly the start of a new series, which doesn’t become apparent until almost the very end. While one story line is wrapped up, there are tons of other things that have yet to be figured out. The book doesn’t really end on a cliffhanger, though, so much as it’s very open-ended. I look forward to seeing what Zardi and Rhidan get up to next.