Overall this book was okay. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible. As I was talking over it with my best friend in the car on the way home I figured out it’s because the bones are good but the main character isn’t really as fleshed out as she could be. So let’s start with characters, shall we?
All of the characters in this book were kind of one-dimensional. None of them were boring, per se, but none of them were particularly deep. They were all pretty “what you see is what you get,” and with quite a few of them “what you see” wasn’t much. The main character, Amani, was smart-mouthed, had a fiery temper, and hated the sexism in her culture, but that was pretty much all there was to her. There were no deep motivations, and even the motivations she had weren’t deeply developed. Thinking about it now it’s actually kind of difficult for me to pinpoint her motivations because they were so… shallow, as far as development goes.
Jin was a more interesting character to me as a whole, which is kind of odd since he was even less developed than Amani, I think. We really don’t know his motivations, he doesn’t have a whole lot of personality traits… He was more one of those characters that I wanted to see be interesting, but when I think about it he actually wasn’t.
The side characters weren’t explored any deeper, either. A couple of the main side characters were really boring, like Captain Naguib and Ahmed. They were supposed to be these important characters and they just… weren’t. Noorsham was a little more interesting, but I feel like he had a lot more potential than was explored. It would have been nice to see his internal struggle more than we did. And I get that, to some extent, since it’s in first person from Amani’s POV, but he just seemed underused. (As did all the characters.) The rebels all had the same problem, and the only one that I found less shallow was killed, so… (The curse of a reader, I suppose. The characters you like almost always die.)
Overall the characters were just really underwhelming, and that contributed to the mediocrity of the rest of the book.
The worldbuilding was really interesting, BUT it was hard to appreciate it as much as I would have liked because I wasn’t invested in the person telling about it and the character herself didn’t seem invested in the world. Amani hadn’t seen a lot of the world, which was a big wasted opportunity. Someone who’s unfamiliar with the world should be interested in the world and should notice things about it that people used to it could take for granted. I didn’t get any of this with Amani. What she talked about she summarized and she felt really disconnected from the world. We don’t get a lot of emotion and sensory detail from her (unless she’s kissing Jin). I think the world would have been a lot more impactful if she’d had any interest in it, but as it was I knew on an intellectual level that the world was interesting but didn’t connect with it on any sort of emotional level.
Amani was also really familiar with stories of the world around her, even if she wasn’t familiar with the world itself, and yet we don’t get to know what she believes about these stories or what impact they’ve had on her or how she learned them or anything like that. She just knows them, regurgitates them, and is done. Story seemed like something that was important to her, at least on some level, so it would have been nice to see that developed more.
The plot was okay. I didn’t really understand why Amani was part of it after a while, except that she was tied to Jin. About halfway through the book she becomes a pretty passive, static character, which was disappointing because she’s reckless. Reckless characters are generally active, not passive, but the only reason she was part of anything after a while was because of Jin, and there wasn’t even a lot of emotional connection between the two characters. I honestly might have preferred if she’d left him and done her own thing just because I’m so tired of female characters’ lives revolving around guys and he was the only reason she did what she did. I guess there might have been a little more emotional connection between them while they were in the desert, but that whole trek was so skimmed over that I have no idea. There was mention of things Jin taught her and things he said, but none of it was shown so none of it really made an impact. It would have been a lot more powerful if the author had spent the time to show at least some of it and give us a bit of a glimpse deeper into the characters and their relationship.
This was a pretty short book, and I feel like that was a mistake. I think it would have been a lot more impactful and enjoyable if the author had put some more time into deepening the characters and then showing their characters and their relationships. I don’t think it would have negatively affected the plot – in fact I think the plot would have benefited from a bit of slowing down – and I think it would have really helped the book as a whole for the main character to be more invested in everything, more deep and thus easier to connect to, that kind of thing. And honestly I don’t think I would have even cared quite as much if the book had been third person, but since the book was first person and generally first person is more personal to read, it was extra disappointing.
I didn’t dislike the book, but I think this book had a lot more potential than what came through on the page.