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Spice Road (Spice Road Trilogy, #1) by Maiya Ibrahim 

A traditional quest story in a unique and fascinating new world! 

From childhood, Imani had trained to be a Shield and follow in the footsteps of her beloved older brother, Atheer, and protect their country from the creatures that spawned from the no man’s land surrounding Sahir. Like others before her, when she matured, she drank the tea made from the spice, the bark of the sacred Misra Tree, that would enhance her unique magical ability. For Imani, her “affinity” was the manipulation of iron, and she became the most skilled fighter with a dagger among the Shields. Well on her way to success and advancement, fighting off the djinns and other monsters her patrol encountered, her life was turned upside down when Atheer disappeared, accused of stealing the spice from the national stores – a sign he’d succumbed to the allure of the magic. Disbelieving the accusations, it was now up to Imani to track him down and clear his and her clan’s name. 

Spice Road is the first book in the trilogy of the same name by author Maiya Ibrahim, and it is a stellar beginning. I was captivated by the author’s world-building, fascinated by the mythology and the slowly unfolding history of the land of Sahir and the Kingdom of Aqibah. The main characters are worthy fighters and magic users but also have hidden sides. I rooted for the small group of rescuers and scouts even when their loyalties conflicted. Throw in a compelling storyline, and you have an absorbing and entertaining reading experience. 

From the city of Qalia in the Sahir to the nightmarish ruins and desert of the Forbidden Wastes, the First City, and the Kingdom of Aqibah, I was impressed by the descriptions of the locations. I felt like they put me right in the story and the action. Along the way, descriptions of panoramic vistas reminded me of scenes from a historical Kdrama. 

There was some phenomenal world-building which included the characters drinking tea made from the bark of a Misra tree, at times in a formal tea ceremony, to draw out the strength of their magic or affinity. A person’s affinity was individual to them and varied from person to person, such as being able to manipulate the earth or fire or, in the case of Taha, exert control over animals. 

The land of Sahir is unknown and unseen by the rest of the world, and the people in Sahir have been led to believe everything outside their borders is dangerous wastelands. It was interesting to watch Imani learn of the discrepancies in what she’d been taught about the world outside. 

The main characters start out enemies, but as they travel together, they slowly change their attitudes toward one another. I was drawn to Imani from the start, and she matures quite a bit over the course of the story as she sees things outside her usual routine. Things were easier and beautiful in her world, but not for everyone else. I liked that she had discovered her calling to be a Shield at an early age and had trained hard with her older brother to excel at this when the time came. The fight and sparring scenes were well-drawn and easy to follow. Her relationship with Taha is a real rollercoaster, and Qayn offers an enjoyable third party. 

The high fantasy plot includes a quest to save Imani’s brother, Atheer, who has gotten involved in a rebellion in the Kingdom of Aqibah. Tension mounts as it is revealed that the members of the travel party have conflicting orders or goals related to Atheer’s “rescue.” Secrets and betrayals are lurking along the way, along with an enemies-to-lovers subplot, and some terrifying monsters to escape. I am already looking forward to the next book in the trilogy. 

I recommend SPICE ROAD to readers who enjoy young adult fantasy or quest stories. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

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