cover image The Daughters of Izdihar

The Daughters of Izdihar

Hadeer Elsbai. Harper Voyager, $28.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-311474-6

Elsbai’s rocky epic fantasy debut and duology launch suffers from uneven worldbuilding that is simultaneously elaborately detailed in its Egyptian-styled setting and cartoonishly shallow in its presentation of misogyny and societal inequities. In Ramsawa, the power of weaving—elemental magic granted by the gods to only a few—is barely tolerated, and only truly accepted in men. Young noblewoman and waterweaver Nehal Darweesh grudgingly acquiesces to a financially driven arranged marriage to Nico Baldinotti after the pair agree to a deal: she’ll allow him to keep his lover, bookstore clerk Giorgina Shukry, as a concubine if he’ll sign the papers for Nehal to attend the newly opened Weaving Academy. Giorgina and Nehal meet through the Daughters of Izdihar, a group of radical women agitating for women’s right to vote, many of whom are hiding weaving abilities. Their involvement opens themselves to the wrath of powerful men in a country on the brink of war, but the camaraderie of the group helps them find the courage to defy expectations. It’s a promising premise, but there’s a frustrating lack of nuance to the gender relations. Meanwhile, a slight secondary arc about Nehal’s realization of her own queerness yields a depiction of cultural homophobia as hamfisted as the rest. This disappoints. (Jan.)