Genre: Upper MG Graphic Novel
Ages: I would suggest 12-15
Islamic screening: Cuss words (a few in Arabic and English- nothing too major). A tattoo (similar to the bedouin Arab tattoos).
When I saw this ARC on NetGalley, I noticed the authors name as one of the Muslim authors from Once Upon a Eid and instantly was intrigued. And I am so glad I downloaded it, as it was super beautifully drawn, well-written, and fun to read.
Aiza is a young Ornu girl in the Empire of Bayt-Sajji. She is part of a minority, and a second-class citizen in the city, where she has to sell apricots to survive and is threatened by bullies. When an army recruiter promises fame and citizenship, she signs up, wrapping her arm to cover her Ornu tattoo. At the training camp, she makes friends, and works hard, befriending a grounds-person who helps her train. She makes squire, and her first assignment is to go to an Ornu camp. There she discovers a secret, one that might unravel her whole status in the army.
This is a fantasy tale, in a made up land inspired by Arab lands. I did enjoy the moralistic aspects of this tale of being good and defending good, friendship and loyalty, and working hard. I also really liked that war and politics were discussed with a lot of insight, discussing the impact on innocent lives and the “propaganda” used in “empires”.
I loved the sprinkles of Arabic (in transliteration English words) throughout the text. There were also other nods to Arab culture: Mjaddarah (an Arab dish), pictures of figs, apricots, and olive trees (def a nod to Arab/Mid-east landscape), a few hijabs and culturally Arab clothing worn by certain characters as well.
I really enjoyed reading the Historical note at the end (pictured-swipe) that talked of how this story is based on the intention of making Arab stories in which Arabs are heroes, not bad guys, in opposition to stereotypes. I also liked the point about unlearning colonization, and I def felt like the text and art supported that.
Def a well-done graphic novel and can’t wait for more in this series!
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