Title: Shackles of the Storm (Spirits of Seiran #1)
Author: D. & L. Kardenal
Publication date: June 13, 2021
One Sentence Summary: When a djinn without her powers is accused of murder, she goes on the run, only to end up working with the nephew of the wrongly imprisoned man to clear not just her and her father’s name, but also his uncle’s.
Shackles of the Storm is about a djinn and a mercenary trying to clear the names of the djinn’s adoptive father and the mercenary’s uncle. It has a lovely desert backdrop and political maneuverings in the wings, but I constantly felt like I was missing information, making turns in the story feel like they were coming out of left field. It was a little disorienting, though I really enjoyed the characters. While I couldn’t always connect to them, and the story, or understand why they did what they did, even the minor characters charmed me.
It’s a normal day for perfumer’s daughter Zaira when Inspector Hazra comes to ask if she might happen to know who murdered the treasurer and his wife as a bottle of her father’s perfume had only recently arrived. Unfortunately, Zaira cannot help him, and he ends up wrong imprisoned, as well as Zaira’s father. She’s tempted to run away from the city, but to where and what about her father?
Ezair is a mercenary, quick but hot headed. He cares only for his uncle, the inspector, and will do anything to see his uncle freed. For that, he needs to team up with Zaira, who really doesn’t have anything better to do. Along with Chai, a young woman who can use magical trinkets, they follow the clues and hunt down ways to free the inspector and the perfumer. All while a mysterious water djinn seems to be chasing Zaira and unrest in the provinces of Seiran, of which Kahlaren is one, is brewing.
I really wanted to love Shackles of the Storm. I haven’t yet read a book with a djinn as a main character, and pairing her with a mercenary made me think this would be a fast-paced story with twists and turns. Unfortunately, I ended up more confused than anything else.
The characters have to be the standouts for me. Their characterizations were so consistent, though there’s an undercurrent of romance that was hinted at and then just suddenly got thrown up into something I felt I should have seen all along but didn’t. I really liked Zaira. As a djinn in a human body she doesn’t have her powers, which is frustrating to her, but she’s also learned the pleasures to be had while in a human body. She was fun, but still managed to keep a good head on her shoulders. She just kind of felt irrelevant to the story much of the time since Ezair and Chai did most of the work. I loved Chai so much. She’s so capable and strong despite her disability. I loved how brave she is and her interest in magical trinkets was fun. I do wish she had been utilized more, and not just for her magic, though. Ezair felt young and brash. I felt he tried to be levelheaded, but it just didn’t work out and he was instead always reaching for something. However, it’s not a huge part of his character arc until the end, so he ended up feeling a little all over the board towards the end. Though I loved the way he played off of Zaira and Chai. The three of them were an amazing team and I loved how they worked together.
While the characters were standouts to me, I felt let down by the plot. The description assured me it would be a djinn and a mercenary fighting their way through the city while hunted by a water djinn. It actually felt more like subtle city and court politics than anything else. I was pulled in by Zaira and Ezair’s desire to free their family members, but there are all these whiffs of more going on around them that don’t really go anywhere throughout the story. As the first in the series, much of it is probably a lot of set up for the rest, but I felt the politics were too subtle and only thrown in to add meat to the story. I didn’t like that it felt like it was gearing up towards something, but that something never really materialized. Shackles of the Storm, though, does tell a full story, even if I didn’t like how some of the character arcs ended.
But the thing that really got to me was that I constantly felt like I was missing details and information. No matter how closely and slowly I read the story, it felt like plot points were hit, but getting from A to B felt more like it went from A to A.9 and then jumped to B. I couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing, and I can’t tell if it was me or the story. It just felt like some things didn’t fully add up and the story kept changing directions. There were information and characters changes thrown in that made me feel like I was thrown a curve ball the whole time. It made it hard to keep up with what, exactly, was going on and why the characters were acting the way they were.
Shackles of the Storm, while offering fun characters and an inconstant story, does offer an incredible setting. There was a lot of the history that was missing and I had a hard time envisioning what the country looked like, but I liked how much thought was put into the djinn. It was easy for me to figure out the djinn, but not the human world. Shackles of the Storm has a desert setting, which fit so well with the story, but, at the same time, it didn’t quite feel hot enough. As a background for the story, though, it really shone. I just wish it had been more detailed.
While I expected magic in Shackles of the Storm, I didn’t expect the source of it. I really wanted Zaira to be able to use her powers, but her not being able to made her kind of lackluster and almost irrelevant. Still there was a decent amount of magic, and all of it was really interesting. I just would have liked more information on how it worked. I also wish there had been more of the on-the-run-from-a-water-djinn going on as water didn’t actually feel as threatening as the description made me think.
While Shackles of the Storm left me confused and wanting more details and information, I did like the characters and the backdrop for their story. It was great to be able to travel around a little and get hints of political intrigue as well as how the pieces functioned together and in opposite directions. It just felt more like set up for the series, and I wonder exactly how this story fits in the grand scheme as only the political intrigue made me think this was the first in the series.
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Thank you to D. &. L. Kardenal for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.