Series: Mirage #2
Publisher : Flatiron Books | Macmillan
Genre : Young Adult |Fantasy, Science Fiction
Page Count: 336
Synopsis : Two identical girls, one a princess, the other a rebel. Who will rule the empire?
After being swept up into the brutal Vathek court, Amani, the ordinary girl forced to serve as the half-Vathek princess’s body double, has been forced into complete isolation. The cruel but complex princess, Maram, with whom Amani had cultivated a tenuous friendship, discovered Amani’s connection to the rebellion and has forced her into silence, and if Amani crosses Maram once more, her identity – and her betrayal – will be revealed to everyone in the court.
Amani is desperate to continue helping the rebellion, to fight for her people’s freedom. But she must make a devastating decision: will she step aside, and watch her people suffer, or continue to aid them, and put herself and her family in mortal danger? And whatever she chooses, can she bear to remain separated, forever, from Maram’s fiancé, Idris? (From Goodreads)
CW: physical assault, violence, murder of a child (off- page), grief, trauma, colonization.
After reading Mirage and loving that book with my whole entire heart, I had extremely high expectations for the sequel. I was unsure of where the story was headed but I hoped that wherever that was, wouldn’t be a let down. But now I’m realizing that was a silly fear. The moment I started reading Court of Lions I was overwhelmed with such a sense of right, such a sense of home and belonging that I burst into tears before I even managed to finish the first chapter. And my love for it and that feeling of home just kept on growing page by page until I reached the very last one.
The writing in Court of Lions is just as good as in the first book, if not better. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, lyrical and atmospheric. It transported me into the story and for a few hours I managed to forget where I was. Reading this book felt like I was sitting at the feet of one of my khalat (aunts) listening to her tell me stories when I was a kid, all starry eyed, giddy and invested in the stakes of what was being recounted. Court of Lions felt like one of those Moroccan fairytales of old with a moral to the story I was told growing up and I was completely riveted and mesmerized by it.
One thing that I loved about Court of Lions is how much it expended on the world. While Mirage stayed focused and confined within the walls of the palace, this sequel expands the world to the rest of Andala. One of my favorite things in series is one books expands on the previous one, and not just story wise, I like when the physical space the book takes part in expands as well and Somaiya Daud did so expertly, and while the places (belonging to different tribes) the characters traveled through were similar, there were small nuances and changes that showed for that change in location. And this to me was so very reminiscent of my own culture and people. From the outside looking in, Amazighi tribes probably look the same, similar attire, similar languages and dialects, etc… but everything is so different when you’re in the thick of it living it, our customs are so varied, our dialects so numerous and different, and I could see that in every detail of the book.
I didn’t think this was possible, but Court of Lions was even more infused with Moroccan culture than Mirage was. I think this ties in with the fact that by making the world bigger the authors was able to explore it more, but the fact of the matter is, I had stars in my eyes and felt giddy at the mention of every single familiar thing. Not only the food and the clothes, not even just in the wedding rites with their billion outfit changes that made me miss henna and dancing my heart away until 7am, but it was also in the subtle things, the way people greet each other, certain habits and mannerisms, Amani weaving wool to pass the time, and most of all the fact that the tribes are matriarchies. Amazighi tribes were and will always be matriarchies at their core and I loved seeing that be acknowledged here, which is a fact that history has tried to make us forget.
On the topic of matriarchies, I absolutely weep at the fact that the rebels, the resistance, the people aiming to free their colonized planet were lead by women, how women took charge and were hell bent on bringing about the change. If you ask me, this book is a love letter to Moroccan women. All of us. Because again, the role that women played in freeing the country from its colonizers time and time again is a component of our history that’s always erased, forgotten, almost never talked about and it made my heart sing that the author honored that, that she made sure to put the women, no matter the part they played, at the forefront, and how she showed that they’re all equally important to bring about change and revolution.
This book isn’t fast paced though. Is it character driven? Yes. Does it have high stakes? Also yes. But the road to getting to the finish line is slow and quiet, it’s not boisterous, it doesn’t take epic battles one after the other, battle scenes, cumulative deaths and bloodshed. At least not for the duration of the book. It’s a long haul war, it’s focused on politics and scheming and bidding your time. Decolonizing one small rebellion at a time until the time comes for more. Some would maybe call it boring, I call it realistic and very well done. Colonization in and of itself is violence so in that sense, yes this book is violent, but insidiously so. You feel it under your skin, the way these characters are in gilded cages, the way they’re stripped of their rights and have to walk on eggshells, the way their loved ones are taken away in the dark of the night never to be seen again and so many other instances in which, much like Mirage did, this book mirrors my country’s own very real history.
The book uses the “slow” parts to focus on the characters and considering how much I adore them, I had an amazing (and painful) time reading about them. No matter how much I love Amani, Maram is and will always be my favorite. She’s one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read about and so relatable to me that it made my heart physically ache at times. I loved seeing her character arc and development in this book, the way she started getting away from under her father’s shadow and being hellbent on doing right by her people while still being terrified of their rejection and feeling hard, if not impossible, to love. Whenever she talked about her insecurities, I just wanted to hug and adopt her.
But what I loved seeing most about her is the way she slowly reconnected with her Kushaila heritage and how symbolic that was and how it hit home with me. Now little personal moment here, up until I was in my late teens, I was very deeply ashamed of my Amazighi heritage, it’s an ugly truth I’m now uncomfortable with admitting to myself, because they’re a resounding sentiment that’s anti-Amazighi that I grew up surrounded by, so no matter how proud my mom, and grandma and aunts were of who they are, I just couldn’t follow suit, because when I went to school I’d hear anti-Amazighi jokes and backhanded comments. So I didn’t tell anyone of it, didn’t speak the language outside of home and didn’t acknowledge any part of it where strangers could see. But now, I wouldn’t exchange that part of myself for anything in the world.
Unpacking that internalized bias and unlearning it took years, so seeing Maram go through that same journey, lean into her culture, embrace her people and learn to love it, them and herself by extension? that is the kind of representation I never knew I needed, especially seeing it from the lens of a character who shares my exact identities. And even more so because her doing that came with her hard edges softening, with her letting more people in, learning to trust people, to trust that if she lets them in they’d love her for who she is, that people don’t have to fear and hate her to respect her. The tentativeness with which she did it all as well as the vulnerability that she showed are so symbolic of her growth and so symbolic of the unfolding of the story as a whole that I couldn’t help but love her more.
Now, Amani. Ever so fierce, ever so strong and resilient. She has been put through hell ad back, uprooted from everything that’s familiar to her, beaten, brokenhearted and oppressed but she never gave up. Always striving for better, for the best, for the liberation of her people. Now I’m not saying she was never broken down and hopeless, no one is invincible in her circumstances, but she always gets back up. In my review of Mirage, I had talked of her love for poetry, how it’s a symbol of hope for her, and the symbolism behind the fact that for a good chunk of the book poetry wasn’t a part of her life didn’t evade me, she felt void and hopeless and trapped so poetry became too painful, but as she started healing, poetry started making appearances in the story again, and I think that that’s some powerful imagery.
Their friendship (or sisterhood) is still one of my favorite platonic relationships I’ve ever read about to this day. It’s so messy and rocky, especially towards the beginning and with the set back inn trust at the end of Mirage but I loved how strong and steady it kept going as Court of Lions progressed, how Amani took it upon herself to be Maram’s older sister and do the things she felt she had to do to help her heal and grow. She shouldered her burden, she confided in her, and was of great council and guidance to her, in both matters of the state and the heart. And seeing Maram latch on to her, embrace her as a sister and open up to her was so amazing for me to watch because it showed her growth as someone who never opened up to anyone before.
Opening up the book to the outside world means that our characters and thus the reader were exposed to new characters that each brought different perspectives to the table. And I really enjoyed seeing them interact and form new relationships outside of each other. But my favorite new introduction by far? Aghrass, Maram’s love interest. She’s one badass lady and I can’t blame Maram for being gay for her all over the place. And yes, Maram is a lesbian and I absolutely lost it when i found out and even more so when I actually got to read about it. A few years ago, I didn’t even dream of Moroccan representation and yet now I get to read about sapphic Moroccan ladies and my heart is so full it’s bursting at the seams. This book is just the gift that keeps on giving and the way they were portrayed? *chef’s kiss* The yearning, the simultaneous softness and intensity of their feelings for each other, the tenderness and carefulness in all their gestures towards each other made me want to lie on the floor and cry.
Now I think that this might strike people as instalovey because Maram doesn’t have a lot of chapters and there’s a time skip between each one and the following so the romance might seem rushed between them, but to me it wasn’t because time passed each time we got to see them interact. I could fill in the empty spaces, the gaps in the timelines with quality time spent together, with more yearning and more getting to know each other and falling more and more in love with each other, and I could do that from the reduced chapters we got, that’s how well done their chemistry was to me. Now, would I have liked more time with them? More chapters from Maram’s point of view in general? Yes. But I loved what I got.
Now on the other hand we have Amani and Idris‘ romance and all I could do while reading their interactions, their love for each other and the challenges they had to overcome, is scream PAAAAAAAIN. I was in pain. So much pain. Too much pain. In fact, I don’t think I will ever recover from it. Somaiya Daud knows how to write yearning so masterfully, the kind that leaves you aching and yearning for the characters as well. Here too, she landed the chemistry so well and so true, the love was so pure and strong and *big*. And what can I say? I just love love.
This review has been long enough but before I go, the last thing I want to touch on is the exploration of trauma in this book. Court of Lions explores it so well through portraying different characters dealing with it differently. While some run towards self-preservation and saving the little that they have left, others run straight towards the recurring trauma to try and make it stop. And neither one is less valid than the other and neither should invalidate the other either. But fact of the matter is that people are sometimes so all-consumed by their own trauma that they can’t look past it and see that people around them might be experiencing the same, or worse, but just deal with it differently.
At its core, this is a story of hope, resistance and resilience. I might not have written this book but it feels so personal and inextricably weaved into the essence of who I am, as a person, as an Amazighi, that I can’t help but love it beyond what the words of this review will ever be able to express. And I’ll forever be grateful to the author for writing it.
Do I recommend?
Absolutely 100% yes. If you like slower fantasy rich in history, culture and resistance, this is the book for you.
About the author
Somaiya lives, works, and writes from Seattle, Washington.
In 2018 her debut novel, Mirage, was released in the United States with Flatiron Books and the United Kingdom with Hodder & Stoughton. It was hailed as “poetically written”, “immersive and captivating” and “beautiful and necessary” by The School Library Journal, Booklist and Entertainment Weekly. Mirage has been shortlisted for the Children’s Africana Book Award and the Arab American Book Award. In 2020 Somaiya received her PhD in English Literature studies with a focus on world literature and nineteenth-century orientalism. She is available for speaking engagements.
That’s it until next time.
Did you read Court of Lions? If so, what did you think?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.