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Review: Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud

Review: Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud

‘Two identical girls, one a princess, the other a rebel. Who will rule the empire?

Amani must make a devastating choice between revolution and family in this sequel to the instant Sunday Times bestseller Mirage.

After being swept up into the brutal Vathek court, Amani, the ordinary girl forced to serve as the half-Vathek princess’s body double, has been forced into complete isolation. The cruel but complex princess, Maram, with whom Amani had cultivated a tenuous friendship, discovered Amani’s connection to the rebellion and has forced her into silence, and if Amani crosses Maram once more, her identity – and her betrayal – will be revealed to everyone in the court.

Amani is desperate to continue helping the rebellion, to fight for her people’s freedom. But she must make a devastating decision: will she step aside, and watch her people suffer, or continue to aid them, and put herself and her family in mortal danger? And whatever she chooses, can she bear to remain separated, forever, from Maram’s fiancé, Idris?’

I absolutely loved Mirage (it’s remained one of my favourite reads since its release) and was a little worried when the date for Court of Lions kept being pushed back, but I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed this sequel perhaps even more than the first instalment. I love reading about politics and court intrigue, which is what Court of Lions primarily focuses on, and I very much enjoyed reading about the different families and their histories – and how their pasts and loyalties could impact the future that seems so out of reach at the start of the novel.

I’m glad that the relationship between Amani and Maram remains central to the story and that there isn’t a huge span of the book where they don’t see each other or have any interaction. There are stretches of the novel where they don’t have a great many encounters, but what encounters they do have are significant, with consequences for them both or indications of character history or progress. Their journey doesn’t centre heavily around the imbalance of power between them, as the end of Mirage might have suggested, but how far they trust each other with their hopes and fears. Amani swiftly emerges as seemingly the stronger of the two, largely out of a desire to protect and be faithful to Maram, for she is the only one who has seen the struggles that she is experiencing and appears to understand that she is finally growing into herself and becoming more than the Vath would have her be. Though Maram is often inconsiderate in what she orders Amani to do (most ‘orders’ start this way and soon become requests) and can seem manipulative, she doesn’t have all of the information available that Amani does, nor does she understand what it is to have friends or family that she can trust with anything of her true self, and Amani has already been less than truthful to her before. They are often at their best when working together, and Maram ultimately wants Amani’s friendship and to forge relationships, in this instance and others, no matter how she struggles.

The majority of Maram’s story in Court of Lions centres around her trying to make peace with the two halves of her heritage: primarily, what her father wants her to be (and whether she has any desire to even attempt to please him any more) and her mother’s legacy. I loved what we get to see of Maram taking steps to learn about her mother’s people and the culture that her father has deliberately kept her disconnected and distanced from in her role as his heir, determined that she is his child, and therefore only one of the Vath, and not Kushaila at all. In the raising of her, he and Nadine have attempted to rewrite her own history and excluded her from learning all that her mother would have taught her and what Kushaila women know how to do, including leaving her struggling with the language barrier that bars her from experiencing literature and poetry in its original form, distancing her from her cultural birthright and what plays an integral role for other Kushaila. While her marriage and pressure of being her father’s heir threatens to force her into roles she doesn’t want, it’s the realisation that there are actually things in life that she wants for herself that begins to encourage her to explore her roots and feel that it’s her mother’s line she ought to honour and not her vicious father’s. This slow acknowledgement of herself as a person and not simply a heir to be used means that she does step back from the true political machinations going on in her name, making it look somewhat like Amani is the one doing all the work, but without Maram’s making this progress in terms of having her own thoughts, feelings and desires, there would be no potential leader with an investment in her people to rally behind.

I find that I’m not usually a huge fan of romances in YA fiction, but I found that both of the love stories in Court of Lions were compelling (Idris and Amani’s relationship in Mirage perhaps having been a little bit too along the lines on insta-love), and I especially liked Maram’s and how the time shifts in the first half of the novel are used to shed light on her behaviour in the present day.

Court of Lions is out on August 6th, from Hodder & Stoughton. Thank you to the publisher for the digital ARC!

I received an E-ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.

Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, sixteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation, she dreams of writing poetry like the old world poetry she loves to hear read, she dreams of one day receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects. When she is kidnapped by the government and taken in secret to the royal palace, she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place. As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty-and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear, and one wrong move could lead to her death.’

This year, I have had the good fortune to read many books that I’ve greatly enjoyed, but if I were to choose one that stands out as having grabbed hold of my heart and not let go, it would be Mirage.

The characters have voices that ring true and are written in such a way that you begin to care for them very quickly, particularly Amani and Maram (even when she’s being awful), and though there are some predictable elements to the narrative, such as the romance, the world-building and mythology of the novel are beautiful and immersive. It’s very easy to set up a ‘good side’ and a ‘bad side’, but what Mirage does well is ensure that even the characters that the reader is supposed to dislike are so much more than one-dimensional ‘villains’ and are, in-fact, just as well developed as the main protagonist. As the story unfolds and the nuances of society and politics are revealed, it’s just as easy to feel sympathy for those in power as it is to feel it for those they command and control, for nothing is ever as clear cut as it seems.

Amani is a strong lead character who is at her best when in scenes with Maram and where their upbringings and world views are in direct contrast. They both evolve over the course of the narrative, reaching new understandings about the world they live in and uncovering facets of themselves that they don’t necessarily like, so much so that it’s difficult to decide where most sympathy should lie by the novel’s conclusion. Though the character in the story with the highest rank is male, it’s the women in the story who are its heart and hold power there, from the leading women themselves to Amani’s mother and Maram’s grandmother. Seeing how the perceptions of women on different sides of the conflict impacts how they view each other – and how they alter as barriers shift and change – is one of the most interesting facets of the story.

Mirage is a wonderful book that takes on what it is to be caught between worlds, the impact conflict has on cultural identity and how history has a tendency to be rewritten by those in power. Not only this, but it has a stellar and complex cast of relatable female characters. A must-read for 2018!

(Please note that the UK cover will be teal and gold if you’re looking for Mirage on the shelves of UK bookshops!)

Publisher: Hodder

Pub date: 28th August 2018