Series: Dark Caravan Cycle #1
Published: 2014 by Balzer + Bray
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios is the story of a jinni who has been exiled from her homeland and is now a slave on Earth. Nalia spends her days coming up with new ways to defy her master Malek, dreaming of the day that she will gain her freedom and be able to rescue her little brother, who is in a work camp in war-torn Arijinna, the jinni homeland. One day, a young (and handsome) revolutionary named Raif finds Nalia and offers her a way out. However, in order to gain her freedom, Nalia must steal back her bottle, which Malek wears around his neck and never removes. And even if she succeeds in stealing the bottle, her freedom comes with a price, and Nalia must decide whether she trusts Raif enough to pay it.
Amazon’s mystical algorithm has been telling me that I’d like the book for months now, and from the moment I picked it up, I understood why–Nalia’s character is a parallel of the story of Anastasia Romanov, and I have a thing for Russian history. Nalia is a Ghan Assouri, the most powerful caste of jinni that rules the land of Arijinna. The Ghan Assouri were murdered after an uprising from the lower castes, and Nalia alone was able to escape the mass slaughter. It’s only now that she’s enslaved on Earth that she really has time to step back and think about the social structure on Arijinna, and to start to realize that the Ghan Assouri spent years oppressing the peasantry in almost exactly the same way that she’s being oppressed now. She realizes that the way that ordinary jinni were treated was by no means acceptable, and that should she choose, she has both the power and the responsibility to help create a better world.
Then there’s the love triangle aspect of the story, which started out strong and then seemed to take a dive (Disclaimer: I am not into love triangles, and generally think they should be avoided at all cost). Raif is the obvious winner, of course, because he is on the side of freedom and justice and all that. He’s got his weaknesses, but his heart is always in the right place. Then there’s Malek, Nalia’s master. Early in the book, it becomes obvious that despite his better judgement, Malek has developed feelings for Nalia. Despite their power difference, he tries not to pressure her, and instead of using his authority over her, he tries to woo her with gifts, dates, etc. As we learn more about him, we see the side that can be sweet and gentle, as well as malicious, angry, and consumed by his own power. The fact that he is madly and jealously in love with Nalia does not mean that he is good for Nalia in any way. She feels an attraction to him on some level, and appreciates his kindness, but she has to realize for herself that it’s a toxic relationship, and that as much as he professes to love her, his insecurities prevent him from allowing her to make her own choices. She has to leave him, because the entire dynamic of their relationship is abusive. And seeing the difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive relationship is something that is important for the book’s intended audience, because sometimes the distinction between the two appears to be fuzzy and indistinct.
And yet, at the same time, I wanted Malek to be more than a cookie-cutter bad guy. I found his personal history fascinating, and without going too far into spoiler territory, I’d like to see more about the events that shaped him and what his true motivations are. Yes, he’s power hungry, but his character had the chance to be complex and multifaceted, and crafting him into the abusive asshole role seemed to push him too far into pure villain-mode. Then again, I’m definitely into moral ambiguity in literature, because in real life, most people aren’t heroes or villains but ordinary people trying to do the best they can with the limited information available to them within the constraints of their own environments. By throwing him into the love triangle and forcing Nalia to take a stand against him, I felt that his potential was wasted.
And yet, despite that, my biggest frustration with Exquisite Captive is that the next book in the Dark Caravan Cycle isn’t coming out until 2016, and I really don’t want to have to wait that long to find out what happens with the revolution and whether Nalia succeeds in her quest. That’s the best kind of frustration to have when finishing a book.