Updated: Apr 15, 2020
I don't usually do a lot of book reviews on my blog- and especially not the stiff, formal type. So when author Farah Zaman approached me about writing a review for the upcoming third book in her YA mystery series, I hesitated a little. But in the interest of supporting POC authors and especially self-published ones, I decided to give it a go. I'm glad I did too. I've enjoyed the process so far and have now decided to open the doors to more book review requests. So if you're an author, want an honest review and like the format of this one, let me know on here or my social media platforms.
Gist of the Story
Four teens on vacation get sucked into a murder mystery tying the death of an orphanage teacher to the theft of a book called the Hour of the Oryx.
1- The pacing of the story was excellent. The story grabs your attention very early on in the book and the action picks up pace quickly. I don't remember ever feeling bored or struggling to get through the manuscript.
2- The writing is fluid and accessible. Not too dense, clunky or wordy. This also made it easy to digest and helped with the general flow of the story. You'd be amazed how often overuse of language can become a barrier for a reader. This wasn't the case with the book.
3- Different plot threads. There were enough plot threads to keep the mystery engaging and complex. I tried my best to figure out how all the clues connected and still couldn't work out who the murderer was. It was nice to see how everything fell into place at the end of the story. I especially liked how certain characters were given a more redemptive character arc at the end and how that connected to the resolution in the third act.
4- Islamic elements. It was also refreshing to see how the characters function within a larger Islamic context; like taking breaks to pray etc. At the same time, these sorts of details felt natural and didn't draw attention away from the story. In fact, certain Islamic elements were intertwined with plot points which was super interesting.
5- Magic and jinn. This was probably one of my favourite element of the book. I loved the references to eastern/Islamic conceptions of black magic and jinn and how those connect to the mystery. To be honest, it kind of left me craving a full-blown horror based around eastern black magic and superstitions.
6- References to war and politics in the Middle East. This was subtle but enough to give a new dimension to the setting. I enjoyed the small snippets of background about the orphans we meet in the story.
7- I liked the orphanage/lake setting. It felt more unique than having the mystery happen within a regular school setting. Something about this choice gave the story a haunting sort of feel. I suppose it's the contrast between the "security" you would expect from an orphanage and the brutality of the murder. This is also the reason I enjoyed the Raha thread, as well as the vaults.
8- Overall enjoyment. The book was a fun and quick read and I'd imagine many people will feel the same.
1- Characterisation. Generally speaking, the characters needed more development and layers- especially the main two female teens. I struggled to understand what role Zahra and Layla played within the plot, as Adam and Zaid seemed to do most of the thinking and problem-solving.
2- Inaccurate register and tone. The teens speak like adults. To be specific, the teens speak with the same register and tone as the narrator/author. This made them less believable.
3- Dialogue. Naturally, the issues with characterisation and register directly affected the dialogue in the story. Characters would speak unnaturally for the sake of clarifying things to the reader. For example, certain characters would be too forthcoming with information when it would make more sense for them to hold back. Or characters would fire question after question in a way that didn't feel realistic in order to quickly provide information or context.
4- Too many characters. I struggled to remember who was who because the book has lots of characters and again there wasn't enough character-building to make them distinctive. I think if the characters were developed more, this wouldn't have been an issue necessarily.
5- Use of Arabic. This is a minor thing but a huge pet-peeve of mine. As a native speaker of Arabic, I'm so wary of writers dropping Arabic terms/words into an English text, as my eye will undoubtedly snag on grammatical errors. The use of the word ta'al ("come" singular/ masculine) was okay at first. But then it was used when referring to groups and women. Yes I'm a grammar Nazi (Arabic only though :P). Again it was only one word, so not a big deal. But for the love of God people, if you want to add Arabic into your English novels, please, please conjugate your verbs. I understand that most people won't pick-up on these errors, but Arabs deserve accurate cultural and linguistic representation.
6- Doppelganger thread. This is probably the only plot element that made me go: 'really?' But I won't add anymore to this, as I don't want to spoil the story.
I suppose I should've said this before but, as a thirty-year-old mum of two, I'm clearly not the target audience for a YA book like this. I'm also a writer which means naturally, I'll pick-up on potential craft issues whereas a fifteen-year-old reading the book won't. So my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt. Is a young teen going to focus on characterisation as much as me? Probably not. This is definitely something you should take into account when considering whether you should read the book or not. In any case, the book is an enjoyable read and I would imagine this would be especially the case for its target audience.
And that's it for this review!
Like I said, I really enjoyed this process; so if you're a writer who wants an honest review on my blog, let me know!