Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




Book Review: The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi
Shannon Chakraborty
Hardcover / eBook
ISBN: 9780062963505
Harper Voyager, February 28, 2023, 496 pages

Greetings, readers, and welcome back to another book review. For this month’s piece, you might recognize the author, who due to her fantastic writing style and intriguing worldbuilding has become a personal favorite of mine—that’s right, Shannon Chakraborty, author of the Daevabad Trilogy, returns with another spectacular tale in The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi.

Unlike her previous works, The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi does not take place in the Daevabad universe, though it does retain Chakraborty’s penchant for setting her characters amidst the Islamic past. In this one, we follow the titular protagonist, Amina al-Sirafi, a retired pirate of the twelfth century Indian Ocean, as she’s offered a price that can’t be refused, forcing her to don her adventuring mantle and embark on one last reckless journey through the high seas.

Right off the bat, The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi separates itself from Chakraborty’s earlier writing both in the tempo of the tale as well as the flow between characters. Where the Daevabad trilogy played out along more measured beats, gradually building from the protagonist with nothing to a grandiose conclusion reminiscent of most epic/high fantasy stories, The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi feels more like a heist movie à la Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job. Amina al-Sirafi, while not at the height of her previous powers (due to the whole “retirement” thing), is still a force to be reckoned with, and the crew she assembles are each memorable as well as unique. Their jobs have frequently ended up going sideways such that improvisation is the norm, rather than the exception. We also learn how Amina al-Sirafi earned her legends, with some wonderful reminiscing that usually turns into hilarious re-enacting.

Another difference from Chakraborty’s previous writing that I really enjoyed was the dialogue between characters. Even though she strives (as usual) for historical accuracy in terms of the locations and regional/nautical terms, the back and forth between each member of the crew, as well as Amina al-Sirafi’s inner thoughts, felt extremely contemporary, which really fit the heist feel of the story quite well. I could easily imagine myself watching these characters on a Hollywood screen and laughing at their bantering quips (as I frequently did while reading the book itself).

This is also a story that does not lack for impressive set pieces. As befits an adventure tale, Amina al-Sirafi engages in daring escapes at sea, vicious battles against loathsome monstrosities from the deep, and countless cliffhangers where death seems all but assured. But Chakraborty also takes time to weave in quieter moments where the characters can breathe, as well as develop. Themes of motherhood and family abound, along with how fame distorts the retelling of history, and Amina al-Sirafi is completely believable as both a larger than life legend, as well as a mother struggling not to find herself out of her depth. In fact, almost every character in the book has some different facet of family conflict to resolve, all of which are portrayed splendidly in their complexity, because just like in real life, there’s not always an easy answer for a difficult situation.

Finally, I would be remiss not to mention Chakraborty’s commitment to portraying the diversity of what we consider the not-so-modern world, while still finding a way to include current conversations on sexuality and gender identity. Human beings are not a single shade of anything, no matter what timeframe or region they might hail from, and Amina al-Sirafi and her crew reflect that in the best possible ways, which is not something you’ll find in every swashbuckling adventure tale.

Overall, The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi is another excellent addition from an excellent author, and I hope some movie studio somewhere is smart enough to option the rights and actually make a film out of it, because I would love to see the spectacles within brought to life via more than just my imagination. This is a book with heart, filled with fear and fun, and I really can’t recommend it enough.

Read if: You can’t resist the lure of your own destruction; you would choose family over fame; you sometimes accidentally sleeping gas your friends.

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Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe

Chris Kluwe grew up in Southern California among a colony of wild chinchillas and didn’t learn how to communicate outside of barking and howling until he was fourteen years old. He has played football in the NFL, once wrestled a bear for a pot of gold, and lies occasionally. He is also the eternal disappointment of his mother, who just can’t understand why he hasn’t cured cancer yet. Do you know why these bio things are in third person? I have no idea. Please tell me if you figure it out.