Review: Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios
Release date: October 7th, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Harper)
Series: Yes, #1 in the Dark Caravan cycle
Source: eARC via Edelweiss/ print ARC from BEA14
Length: 480 pages
Rating: A positive meh-to-middling.
Forced to obey her master.
Compelled to help her enemy.
Determined to free herself.
Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.
Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?
Inspired by Arabian Nights, EXQUISITE CAPTIVE brings to life a deliciously seductive world where a wish can be a curse and shadows are sometimes safer than the light.
This is not a bad book. It is well-written, thoroughly researched, and full of mythology. It has a kick-ass premise and is thoughtfully created. There is a gorgeous map, diversity, and genies. But Exquisite Captive may be Exquisitely Crafted, but it is not Exquisitely Captivating.
The problem was that I was just not gripped by the book, despite it being a LosAngeles-set (my city!) fantasy about a girl with phenomenal cosmic powers, itty bitty living space. Jinn war! A girl forced to grant wishes against her will! Yawn?! Sigh. Yawn. First of all, the info-dumps. Holy SPICOLI, the info-dumps. I read a lot of fantasy, and so I've got a mid-to-high tolerance for info-dumps, but these were whoppers. The already slow plot would be yanked to a complete standstill so that the third person narration could tell us about the different castes of jinn, what color eyes they had, which region of Arjinna they were from, which powers they had, etc. etc. etc. All I had to do was flip to the beginning of the book and the handy dandy Jinn Castes chart. I didn't need a ten page essay on them one tenth of the way into the story.
|Me, trying to count how many types of Jinn there were|
The worldbuilding is, however, great. It's rich and complicated and I liked the complexity of the jinn of Arjinna. I just wish it had been presented differently.
Then there's the story. So Nalia is a jinn, born and raised in the jinn land, Arjinna. But then there's a REBELLION and the fancy pants, powerful aristocrat jinn caste (of which Nalia is one) are overthrown by... well, I'll spare you the lesson in Jinn sociology. Every member of the jinn elite is murdered, save for Nalia, who is captured by the jinn slave trade and sold to a man in the human world named Malek. Malek lives in the Hollywood HIlls, rich beyond measure and more than human. He refuses to make his third wish, and so Nalia continues to belong to him, forced to grant wishes to his clients---not to mention turn down Malek's less-than-savory advances.
I have a feeling the later books in this series are going to be awesome. The problem is, this one isn't. There's a lot of thinking. A lot of remembering. Nalia thinks about her brother, trapped in Arjinna and imprisoned in a labor camp. She goes shopping. She thinks some more. She thinks about Malek. She thinks about Raif, the love interest. She flashes back to times past. She thinks about her brother some more. She gets dressed. She goes out. She thinks. The plot meanders, stops, starts, contemplates moving, forgets the stakes, and then kind of ends without any real urgency or verve.
Then there's Nalia herself, who is perfectly sympathetic, if not overflowing with personality. She just kind of is. She's noble, and serious, and self-righteous, and incredibly un-compelling to me. Ditto Raif. Like, yay! You're a good person who is VERY SERIOUS ALL THE TIME and wants to save Arjinna! That's nice. You bore me. Malek (NOT THE LOVE INTEREST, FYI) is an awful person, obviously, but I at least found him very interesting and layered. I guess I just don't like noble people. I'm awful. I'm also not uber-thrilled with the way my city, Los Angeles, is portrayed, though I can't say it's wholly inaccurate, just exaggerated. I'm also just sensitive about LA and how it's written, so that's totally just a "me" thing.
I wantd to love this book for its concept and its diversity, and I can definitely applaud it, though it's not nearly enough to love it. Plus, Nalia's skin gets described as "cinnamon" at one point, which... whomp.
I'm going to read the sequel, because I expect nothing but awesome things from Heather Demetrios, who is so talented and so cool. I think this one was just an example of me and the book not clicking for whatever reason. The distancing 3rd person pov in addition to Nalia's nebulous characterization made it hard for me to invest, which made it impossible for me to overcome a slow pace. But it's possible that, with the bulk of the base world-building out of the way, book two could be worlds better. And I mean that literally.