Review: The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon ChakrabortyThe Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty
Series: Amina Al-Sirafi #1
Published by HarperCollins on February 28, 2023
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy
Pages: 496
Format: Audiobook
Source: Purchased

"A thrilling, transportative adventure that is everything promised–Chakraborty's storytelling is fantasy at its best." -- R.F. Kuang, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Babel and The Poppy War

"An exhilarating, propulsive adventure, stitched from the threads of real history, Amina’s adventures are the reason to read fantasy." -- Ava Reid, internationally bestselling author of Juniper & Thorn

Shannon Chakraborty, the bestselling author of The City of Brass, spins a new trilogy of magic and mayhem on the high seas in this tale of pirates and sorcerers, forbidden artifacts and ancient mysteries, in one woman’s determined quest to seize a final chance at glory—and write her own legend.

Amina al-Sirafi should be content. After a storied and scandalous career as one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates, she’s survived backstabbing rogues, vengeful merchant princes, several husbands, and one actual demon to retire peacefully with her family to a life of piety, motherhood, and absolutely nothing that hints of the supernatural.

But when she’s tracked down by the obscenely wealthy mother of a former crewman, she’s offered a job no bandit could refuse: retrieve her comrade’s kidnapped daughter for a kingly sum. The chance to have one last adventure with her crew, do right by an old friend, and win a fortune that will secure her family’s future forever? It seems like such an obvious choice that it must be God’s will.

Yet the deeper Amina dives, the more it becomes alarmingly clear there’s more to this job, and the girl’s disappearance, than she was led to believe. For there’s always risk in wanting to become a legend, to seize one last chance at glory, to savor just a bit more power…and the price might be your very soul.

Amina Al-Sirafi, one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates, left life on the high seas behind when she became a mother. When a debt to an old friend pulls her from retirement, Amina is thrust back into the life she left behind ten years ago. The one she left for her daughter. The one she still misses every day. 

To truly finish that chapter of her life, Amina has loose ends to wrap up. Ones that involve betrayal, murder, and otherworldly magics. But can you ever really close the book of your past? For Amina, it seems that the answer is no. Following her practically door to door as she gets the old crew back together for one final mission is both thrilling and amusing. I don’t always enjoy these “one final mission” stories, but this one really worked for me – probably because Amina isn’t the typical protagonist.

A middle aged woman, a mother, and a divorceé (several times over…), Amina’s lived a lot of life. It was refreshing to read from the perspective of a protagonist who’s experienced more than the typical main character. I enjoy a character with layers, with flaws, and one who has a well-developed sense of who they are and what they believe in, so Amina’s character was a delight for me. She’s a devout Muslim and her faith is a large part of the story, but she’s also a liar, a criminal – even a killer. Amina has been a hero, and in some people’s stories, she’s also a villain. Although this is a fun adventure story, Chakraborty leaves room for some interesting philosophical questions and moral quandaries.

Amina Al-Sirafi has lived long and boldly enough to become a hero - and in the eyes of some, a villain.

The most significant of these is Amina’s conflicted feelings about motherhood. It’s the most important part of her life now – Marjana is the most important part of her life now – but it comes with the tension that she’s also her own person. Someone with ambition and dreams and desires that are often in conflict with “being a good mother.” Amina’s career as a sailor-slash-pirate would require her to be away from her daughter more often than not, and that guilt is a big part of what’s kept her in retirement all these years.

You’ll notice that I haven’t said much about the plot nor have I mentioned the world building – that’s mostly to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say that righting old wrongs involves one of Amina’s ex-husbands…and he’s not exactly a typical guy. Chakraborty draws on myths and legends from the lands that a real pirate of the Indian Ocean would have encountered, introducing them little by little. The narrative is structured as a reflection on the past, with Amina recounting the story to a scribe named Jamal. Every few chapters there’s a vignette where Jamal recounts a myth about a soon-to-be-topical magical creature or artefact. As much as I love Amina, I’m clamouring for more of those legends! I trust that we’ll see more in the sequel.

If you enjoy audiobooks  even a little, then you should read The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi in that format. The audiobook is SO GOOD, y’all. Lameece Issaq as Amina is a revelation. Pitch-perfect delivery for 17 hours is no joke. This is definitely a contender for best audiobook of the year.

Highly recommended for fans of fantastical adventures and anyone who’s keen to read one from a more seasoned protagonist.