Thumbs up for The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty. Fantasy.
Lady pirate is dragged out of retirement for one last adventure. What I really liked: the setting is wonderfully researched and vivid; the side characters are fun; Amina’s love for her daughter (there aren’t enough good mothers in fiction, period); Amina’s devout but, er, flexible relationship with God; and the plot had unexpected developments that elevated it beyond what I thought it was going to be. Kudos. What I didn’t like: wow, enough fight scenes already. I really do love a good fight scene, but more than two per book treads the edge of eyeglaze. Overall, not a book that blew my socks off, but quite satisfying.
The maps are—and I cannot emphasize this enough—remarkably easy to forge. I can even tell you how it is done: You merely need a scrap of parchment and a bit of time. Tonics are applied to darken and yellow the paper, though regrettably, the majority require urine and the best derive from the bile of a bat. The map itself should be drawn with care, with enough details that some geographic locations will be recognizable (ideally directing the mark in the opposite direction of which the mapmaker intends to flee). Symbols can be lifted from any number of alphabets. Many forgers prefer Hebrew for its mystical connotations, but in my opinion, the text off an old Sabaean tomb makes for more mysterious letters. Wrinkle the whole thing up; fray the edges, burn a few holes, apply a thin layer of sandarac to fade the script—and that is that. Your “treasure” map is ready to be sold to the highest bidder.
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