The Covenant of Shihala

by Laya V. Smith & Kyro Dean

Reviewed by Jennifer deBie

The only reason this reviewer did not read The Covenant of Shihala in under 24 hours, was because your dear reviewer has a day job and obligations that sadly tear her away from her Kindle. As it is, she still squeaked under the 48-hour mark, students and deadlines be damned.

Written in a third person narrative that alternates perspective between the two leads chapter by chapter, The Covenant of Shihala follows Ayelet, a penniless travelling musician with few ties and a mysterious backstory, and Jahmil, a djinn prince without a kingdom, who would sell his soul to save his people. As their lives entwine, break apart, and knot back together again, Ayelet and Jahmil must learn to work together, and trust each other, through a series of trials that will not only uncover her past, but create his future.

The first of a series of books that dance between the land of Ard, the world of humans in a vaguely medieval Ottoman Empire, and that of Qaf, or the home of djinn and their Nine Kingdoms, with this novel Dean and Smith have created a lush series of landscapes for their characters to play in. Tangible details, from the glitter and dust of a market to the insidious poison of a quicksilver lake, riddle these pages as together the authors bring to life not just one, but two exquisite worlds. The parallel lands of Ard and Qaf are both thoroughly, and beautifully, described in the pages of The Covenant of Shihala, but even a passing glance tells readers that there is more than meets the eye here. Smith and Dean have far from exhausted their world, leaving plenty of space in both the land of humans and the realm of djinn for as many future installments of The Fires of Qaf series as they wish to write.

The characters, both the two leads and the extensive supporting cast of allies, enemies, and in-between, are crafted with as much attention to detail as the worlds they inhabit. Each with their own quirks of language and twists of thought. Every character has their own reasons for acting the way they do and, no matter how snarled or contrary to reader expectations, their motivations are always understandable without the authors relying on exhausting plot dumps or awkward monologues.

Obviously inspired by the mythology of the modern-day Middle East, but with a swagger and finesse that belongs solely to its authors, The Covenant of Shihala is at once breakneck in pace and breathtaking in prose and an exquisite opener to what promises to be a stunning new fantasy series.

5/5

The Seal of Sulayman

by Laya V. Smith & Kyro Dean

Reviewed by Jennifer deBie

Return to the moon-steeped lands of djinn and magic in Kyro Dean and Laya V. Smith’s second entry into The Fires of Qaf series with The Seal of Sulayman. Following the first novel, Prince Jahamil and his human bride, Ayelet have married for love, breaking the societal mores of djinn culture in the process. This may be all very well and good to the heir to Shihala’s throne and his one-day queen, but the other courts of Qaf, including the tempestuous Queen Qadira, Jahmil’s former fiancée, need to be pacified. Enter Sezan, Jahmil’s sister, and Bakr, a half human djinn, and Jahmil’s most trusted adviser. As ambassador and her escort respectively, Sezan and Bakr are dispatched to Qadira’s court, ostensibly to smooth ruffled feathers and maintain diplomatic ties between two of the most powerful countries in all of Qaf.

Appearances are not all they seem though. Sezan and Bakr have a tumultuous history all their own, full of betrayals, secrets, skeletons, and demons – both literal and figurative. Deals have been struck on all sides and nothing can be certain in love and magic as the pair struggle to protect each other, and themselves, when the sum of their myriad mystical debts comes due.

[Written with the same lush texture as The Covenant of Shihala, but with fresh characters and new corners of Qaf, its histories and mysteries to explore, The Seal of Sulayman feels like Smith and Dean are “growing up” within this world they have created.] [The sweeping, breathless romance of the first entry to this series was excellent, but now readers are given a glimpse into the consequences of marrying for love in a society ruled by precedent and the stratification of the royal court.] [Where do a woman who wants to be more than a political pawn in a marriage game, and a half-human half-djinn warrior fit into a society that wasn’t built for either of them? How can they contribute to their country and protect their friends? And most importantly, how does their inability to stay away from each other (or in their clothes when they’re alone together) throw a wrench into even the best laid plans?]

[Satisfying in ways that I was not expecting, and just as deliciously twisty as the first, the second Fires of Qaf introduces readers to two, fantastic new personalities to follow and fall in love with in The Seal of Sulayman.]  

5/5