The only reason this reviewer did not read The Covenant of Shihala in under 24 hours, was because your dear reviewer has a day job and obligations that sadly tear her away from her Kindle. As it is, she still squeaked under the 48-hour mark, students and deadlines be damned.
Written in a third person narrative that alternates perspective between the two leads chapter by chapter, The Covenant of Shihala follows Ayelet, a penniless travelling musician with few ties and a mysterious backstory, and Jahmil, a djinn prince without a kingdom, who would sell his soul to save his people. As their lives entwine, break apart, and knot back together again, Ayelet and Jahmil must learn to work together, and trust each other, through a series of trials that will not only uncover her past, but create his future.
The first of a series of books that dance between the land of Ard, the world of humans in a vaguely medieval Ottoman Empire, and that of Qaf, or the home of djinn and their Nine Kingdoms, with this novel Dean and Smith have created a lush series of landscapes for their characters to play in. Tangible details, from the glitter and dust of a market to the insidious poison of a quicksilver lake, riddle these pages as together the authors bring to life not just one, but two exquisite worlds. The parallel lands of Ard and Qaf are both thoroughly, and beautifully, described in the pages of The Covenant of Shihala, but even a passing glance tells readers that there is more than meets the eye here. Smith and Dean have far from exhausted their world, leaving plenty of space in both the land of humans and the realm of djinn for as many future installments of The Fires of Qaf series as they wish to write.
The characters, both the two leads and the extensive supporting cast of allies, enemies, and in-between, are crafted with as much attention to detail as the worlds they inhabit. Each with their own quirks of language and twists of thought. Every character has their own reasons for acting the way they do and, no matter how snarled or contrary to reader expectations, their motivations are always understandable without the authors relying on exhausting plot dumps or awkward monologues.
Obviously inspired by the mythology of the modern-day Middle East, but with a swagger and finesse that belongs solely to its authors, The Covenant of Shihala is at once breakneck in pace and breathtaking in prose and an exquisite opener to what promises to be a stunning new fantasy series.