In a world dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated home. But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place. As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty―and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.
Basically, this book is everything I've ever wanted in a sci-fi book and more. I don't know about you but I'm a fan of fantasy and sci-fi books that adapt cultures that aren't my own into the world that they've created and that's exactly what Somaiya Daud does in this magnificent book.
It did take me a bit of time to get into the story, but once I did I couldn't stop. The beginning two or three chapters were a little dull, not necessarily in a bad way, but they weren't riveting, instead, they were filled with exposition. That exposition-filling (or whatever that's called) made it hard for me to keep track of things since I got a bit of an information overload. By the fourth chapter, though, I got into the rhythm of the book and the story really flowed.
Other than the few roadblocks in the beginning, the rest of the book was paced incredibly well and the storyline matched with character arks with a precision I'm not used to in stories, especially not from debut novelists.
Perhaps the biggest triumph of the book is the fact that the story manages to be both plot and character driven- the characters drive the plot and the plot drives the characters in a way that leaves you feeling like you're very much in the middle of the action.
I wish I'd gotten a bit of a better explanation of different cultural aspects because by the time I'd gotten a hold of them, the scenes involving them had more or less resolved themselves. That being said the world building is fantastic and, as someone who just adores well built worlds, I fell head over heels for this world. Like I would actually marry it.
All in all, I give this book 5/5 stars.