Theme Thursday: My favorite Arabian/Middle Eastern themed books

This year I have been reading a lot of books with Arabian and Middle Eastern themes, and I think this is now one of my favorite themes ever. I have found that in a lot of popular fiction, there is always the “main” land which is often just inspired by feudal Europe, and there is the “sub” land. You know, the land that vaguely reminds you of any Arabian country that the main character travels to, like, once, where they learn that that land they thought was barbaric and backwards is actually not that bad, wow! Anyway, I’m so glad that I’ve been discovering more books that have Arabian themes in the foreground, because these stories are important.

I’ve decided to kick off a new type of blogpost: Theme Thursday! I will occasionally make a list of my favorite books that have a common theme. Today obviously, my favorite Arabian/Middle Eastern themed books!

The Daevabad Trilogy – S.A. Chakraborty

Okay, so the third book isn’t out yet. But obviously it’s going to be as amazing as the first two books in this series, so who am I to leave it out? It kind of took me forever to pick up The City of Brass, but when I finally did I was literally hooked from the first page. A lot of careful thinking and plotting went into this series, and I love it. The Daeva world is amazing; all the different tribes hail from lands we are familiar with. This series will have you picking and switching sides constantly and honestly I have no clue what’s going to happen in the third book. I did not see that ending in book two coming at all, but I’m here for it.

Chakraborty converted to Islam in her teens and similar to what I mentioned above is that she often came across Islamic themes in mainstream fiction that were either very cliche or even offensive. She said it’s frustrating to enjoy fantasy as a genre, when you also have to deal with these cliches and biases. Thus this book was originally written for her community; for people like her that wanted to enjoy fantasy and science fiction without fearing coming across the cliches you find in other books.
(Paraphrased from interview between James McDonald and S.A. Chakraborty on November 15, 2017. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/s-chakraborty/ )

I know I am digitally rambling right now, but what’s also amazing about this series is that it is so so gray. There is no true good and bad. I said you’d be picking sides and switching sides constantly and I meant that. This is a story where you could argue for all sides of the conflict. It’s about occupation and oppression which is something millions of people still deal with today.

The point I’m trying to make is: please read this series. Even though this is a fantasy series, there is a lot to learn from it!

We Hunt the Flame – Hafsah Faizal

I read this one recently and highly enjoyed it. This one is very different from the Daevabad books. First this one is aimed at a young adult audience. Second, this world is completely fictional. I really like how this world was built. The Sisters of Old formed the kingdom of Arawiya, but tragedy struck and now every part of the kingdom suffers from some kind of blight. Zafira takes on the task of retrieving a legendary object from the highly dangerous island of Sharr and reluctantly strikes an alliance with the Crown Prince, Nasir, and Arawiya’s general, Altair.

What I like most about this book is that it’s a very feminist story. Zafira is a huntress, except everyone knows her as the hunter. Male. Especially the people in her caliphate assume that women are good for nothing at all. They could never run a business, or become something more than housewife. Even though Zafira knows otherwise deep inside, she still hides behind her male alter ego out of fear that all she has done for her community will be worth nothing if she is ousted as female. I really enjoyed her character development across the book.

If you’re thinking “is this the end already?” then you are correct. This list is short because I wanted to limit it to books that have a distinct Arabian/Middle Eastern theme, and are written by Muslim authors. I’ve read more books that have these themes, and I thoroughly enjoyed those as well! But they were not written by Muslim authors. Obviously this list is going to become longer the more I read, so feel free to leave me some recommendations for books you think should be on this list!

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