The Balloon Thief – Aneesa Marufu

Published By: Chicken House
Pages: 438
Released On: 03/03/2022

For Khadija, the only escape from her father’s arranged betrothal is the sky. When she spots a rogue hot air balloon fighting against its ropes, she leaps at the chance for adventure.

Khadija soon finds an unlikely ally in a poor glassmaker’s apprentice, Jacob. But Jacob is a hāri, and Khadija a Ghadaean.

The hāri are oppressed and restless – their infamous terrorist group, the Hāreef, have a new fearsome leader. And the ruling Ghadaeans are brutal in their repression. Soon, a deadly revolution threatens their friendship and the world. The Hāreef use forbidden magic, summoning jinn – wicked spirits made of fire – to enact their revenge, forcing Jacob and Khadija to choose what kind of a world they want to save.

*****

Thank you to Chicken House for the most beautiful copy of this book in return for an honest review.

An epic story about political, cultural and religious divides of two peoples couldn’t feel more timely, and whilst there is a fantasy element to it, an element of mystery and wonder, there is a human battle, a human heart at the root of it.

There is definitely a hint of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses about it, where white-skinned individuals are seen as the ‘lesser’ race. If only racism – of any race to another – was confined only to storybooks and fairy tales. As someone who is lucky enough to have never experienced discrimination according to my skin colour, there is an uncomfortableness around how some characters are treated, but it hits the right mark. She doesn’t ram the race card down your throat, it’s more of an every ugliness, which sadly is the truth for far too many people.

The world building and character building is sublime throughout, but does not interfere with the pacing of the plot. We get right to the heart of the action very quickly, and it doesn’t let down at all.

I think this has elements of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner about it. Yes it has more fantasy elements and Hosseini’s is more about the realism, but this book has the same power and importance, and I believe it could be a very powerful book in the future, for young and old.

If there was one word to describe this book, it would be ‘gorgeous’. I surely hope there will be a sequel as I’m not ready to leave this world quite yet. If you can get your hands on a copy, please do, you’ll be forever changed by what you read.

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