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Book Review: This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

Book Review: This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi

Magic, danger, courtly intrigue and forbidden romance collide in This Woven Kingdom, the first book in the epic new fantasy series from Shatter Me author Tahereh Mafi. Inspired by Persian mythology – and the epic poem Shahnameh in particular – This Woven Kingdom is a heart-achingly beautiful novel that showcases the fantasy genre at its finest, combining brilliant world-building, complex characters and a searing romance with Islamic tradition and a rich mythology to create a vivid and gripping story it’s only all too easy to lose yourself in.

To all the world, Alizeh is just another disposable servant, working long, gruelling hours just to earn enough to scrape by while she grieves her parents’ deaths and lives in fear of the devil who whispers riddles in her ear. What the world doesn’t know, however, is that ice runs in Alizeh’s blood, marking her as the long-lost heir to an ancient Jinn kingdom who is destined to save her people.

Crown prince Kamran has heard the prophecies that foretell of the death of his grandfather, the king, but when he discovers Alizeh, he could never have imagined that this servant girl with the strange eyes who proves him wrong at every turn would one day uproot his kingdom. Alizeh’s very existence threatens the life of the king, the peace in Ardunia and the stability of the world as they know it, but Kamran can’t deny his attraction to her. With friends and enemies hiding everywhere, Alizeh doesn’t know who to trust, but fate (or the devil) has brought Kamran and Alizeh together, and their connection can’t be ignored.

This was impossible. Not only impossible, it was dangerous. Ruinous. Not merely for themselves –  but for the realms they occupied. Their lives were pitted against each other. He had a kingdom to one day rule, and she had her own life to pursue. Any other avenues would lead only to chaos.”

With brilliantly vivid descriptive prose, Tahereh Mafi brings this new world and its characters easily to life, and it’s almost like a magic in itself. Everything in this novel feels alive on the pages, from the grand splendour of Kamran’s royal home to the bitter cold that Alizeh feels running through her veins, and it takes no time at all to get swept up in This Woven Kingdom and let the easy narrative style pull you in to this world of Jinn, princes, magic, mystery and romance.

As exquisite as the world-building is, however, This Woven Kingdom is primarily a character-driven novel, and it’s Alizeh and Kamran themselves who really are the true shining lights in this book. Alizeh is strong, resourceful and compassionate but, after years of hardship, fending for herself and fleeing from constant persecution, she’s also grieving and alone, and she has very little belief in the prophecy that says she will rise to great power and unite her people once again. Kamran, meanwhile, is a soldier and a prince who knows his duty, but in knowing that he has very little say over his own future he’s grown apathetic about most of courtly life, while in the war room no one takes him seriously because of his age, despite his intelligence and good instincts.

Crossing paths with Alizeh brings Kamran’s desires and loyalty into swift conflict, while Alizeh wonders at the fact that this prince was able to see something in her at all when she’s spent so long being ignored, abused and mistreated by the society she hides among. Kamran’s intense and instant interest in Alizeh could be accused of circling the insta-love trope, but it’s also clear that desire is not the driving force of Kamran’s actions – plus this is one forbidden romance storyline that also masters the art of the slow burn. Mafi takes her time in bringing these two closer over the course of the novel, and it makes every interaction between Alizeh and Kamran all the more wonderfully agonising to experience. Even better though, their interest in each other never comes at the detriment of either character’s individual arcs, with their two complete storylines both running alongside and intertwining with each other but not overtaking them completely.

In many ways This Woven Kingdom feels like it should just be another run-of-the-mill YA fantasy novel. There are many elements in this book that we’ve seen before, from star-crossed lovers to clashing empires and long-lost heirs, and yet Tahereh Mafi has brought all of those elements together to create something utterly and magically unique, not to mention all-consuming. It’s not entirely perfect – a chapter outlining the history of the Jinn and the devil, Iblees, while interesting, feels out of place, and the characters’ speech feels too deliberately courtly and jarring at times – but there’s no denying that This Woven Kingdom is something special, with multi-layered characters, a richly-textured narrative and writing so beautiful you’ll find yourself rereading passages over and over again to really appreciate them.

Perfect for fans of Sabaa Tahir and SA Chakraborty, This Woven Kingdom is a surprising, heart-pounding and gripping read that will leave you wanting more and, as the first book in what promises to be a truly epic blockbuster fantasy trilogy, it feels like Tahereh Mafi is only just getting started with this one.

★★★★★

This Woven Kingdom is published by Electric Monkey on 3 February 2022

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