Published by Walker Books, 2022.
Nura and the Immortal Palace is a terrific story! I was caught up in its dark and dangerous world and fascinated by its tales of the jinn and qareen.
Nura has worked all her life in the mica mines, earning just enough to keep her family afloat – and to enjoy the odd delicious gulab jamun from the market. Some day she’s hoping to find the Demon’s Tongue, a legendary treasure buried deep in the mines, and she’ll never have to worry about money again. Then a terrible accident buries her best friend, Faisal, in the mines. Desperate to save him, Nura digs too deep and passes over into the magical and terrible world of the jinn. Across a pink sea and under a purple sky, she finds her way to a palace, where great riches and a whole new life are on offer. But it’s not long before Nura discovers this world to be as unfair as the real one, and that trickster jinn always live up to their reputation…
The world of the jinn is richly imagined and quite unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before. There are jinn in all shapes and sizes, some with horns, others like snakes – yet all devious and self-serving. They are powerful and not to be crossed, their magic used for evil.
The wealth and life of luxury on display in the Sijj Palace is in stark contrast to Nura’s life back home. Initially, the lure of this opulence and excess is very tempting and Nura loses sight of her plans to rescue Faisal and escape back home. I enjoyed how the book examined greed and the corrupting power of money.
The book also explores the topic of child labour and child exploitation in a frank and honest manner. Children as young as five work in the mica mines. It’s dirty, dangerous and thankless work. The children take great risks for little reward. They are at the mercy of the contractors and the mine owners. It’s a situation that’s mirrored in the Sijj Palace; children are imprisoned and forced to work and live in terrible conditions.
The book is also hugely important in terms of representation. It begins in modern-day Pakistan and is packed with references to Muslim culture and tradition. My class is predominantly Muslim and they were very excited when I shared the book with them; it made them feel seen and they could relate to the characters and the details of the setting.
There are also important messages about teamwork and co-operation, and working for the good of everyone instead of in your own self-interest. As they begin to work together, we see jinn and humans overcoming the prejudices they previously held about each other.
Nura and the Immortal Palace is pacy and exciting. Not long after Nura’s arrival at the Sijj Palace, the stakes are raised very high. She discovers they she and the other children have just three days to escape, otherwise they will be permanently trapped in the palace and all memories of home will be lost forever. In spite of the serious themes and the danger, there’s a huge amount of humour in the book too. The relationship between Nura and Faisal is very real and Nura is a feisty and strong-willed lead who I liked very much.
Suitable for children aged 8+
Thank you to Walker Books for sending me this book to review.