The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty
Reviewed by Kiah
"God as my witness, none of this ever would have happened if it were not for those two fools back in Salalah. Them and their map."
Amina al-Sirafi was once an infamous pirate captain, with stories of her escapades, numerous husbands, and rumoured dealings with djinn and demons spreading far across the Indian Ocean. Now in her forties, Amina is retired with a bad knee, a leaky roof, scores of enemies to hide from, and a ten year old daughter to raise. But when she is asked to investigate the kidnapping of a teenager, Amina jumps at the chance to reunite her old crew for one last adventure, and to safeguard her family's future. Yet as Amina looks deeper, she realises there's alarmingly more to this job, and the teenager's disappearance, than she was led to believe. Between unscrupulous mercenaries, power-hungry sorcerers, mythical artifacts, and monstrous sea creatures, Amina and her crew will need to muster every scrap of their strength, wits, and skill to survive.
The novel takes place in a fictionalised version of twelfth-century Islamic societies of the northwestern Indian Ocean, and Chakraborty draws on extensive academic resources to enliven this setting with details of historical figures, ordinary people, folk tales, nautical terminology, the Crusades, and the methods of criminals. Readers are also further drawn into the story through the inclusion of short interluding traveler's letters, fairytales, official missives, and historical records that expand and reveal the world that Amina experiences. This vibrant and multicultural setting is also reflected in the novel's cast, giving rise to a number of distinct character dynamics and diverse perspectives less commonly depicted in fantasy stories: there is first mate and former slave Tinbu from the Malabar Coast, poisoner and devout Christian Delila of secretive criminal origins, family man and retired navigator Majed from Mogadishu, and, at the story's helm, Amina al-Sirafi. In in her forties, a mother, Muslim, and female ship owner in a patriarchal society, Amina struggles to reconcile her conflicting dreams of being a legendary pirate and adventurer with her past regrets and desire to protect her daughter, and to lift her family out of the cycles of poverty that have plagued them for generations.
'The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi' a rollicking tale of friendship, ambition, magic, and mayhem, and above all one woman's determination to carve out her own legend. I cannot recommend it highly enough!