Kayla Bell reviews The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed

The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed (Amazon Affiliate Link)The Labyrinth’s Archivist by Day Al-Mohamed (Amazon Affiliate Link)

Are you looking for a book with a diverse cast, compelling story, great worldbuilding, and disability representation? Lucky you, because you have The Labyrinth’s Archivist.

This fantastical novella stars Azulea, the newest in a long line of Archivists, the people who interview travelers and make maps of the worlds that extend out from the Archivists’ Residence. Azulea desperately wants to join her family’s vocation, but she is blind and therefore assumed to be incapable. When someone (or something) starts killing Archivists one by one, Azulea puts her mind to solving the mystery.

There were so many things I loved about this book. For starters, there was the amazing disability representation. The author, Day Al-Mohamed, is blind herself, so the representation was very authentic. I love how Azulea’s blindness was incorporated into the story, but didn’t make it seem like inspiration porn. It was also very refreshing to see disability representation in the fantasy genre, where we certainly don’t get enough of it. More than just painting Azulea as an inspirational story, the novella really dives into the challenges of being blind in a fantasy world. Physically and psychologically, Azulea must adapt to her surroundings. The Labyrinth’s Archivist is worth reading for this aspect alone.

Another part of the novella I loved was worldbuilding. The world of the Labyrinth was so detailed and intricate. Every setting was so beautifully described. I could picture every scene like a movie, which is something I love to see in a book. The world is heavily influenced by Middle Eastern culture, which also gave it a sense of depth and richness. The opulence of the Residence itself shines throughout the novella, and serves as a wonderful backdrop to the central mystery. The story itself reads very quickly, too. It’s like a fantasy version of an Agatha Christie novel. I flew through it. If anything, I thought it was too short.

Even given everything else, for me, the best part of this novel was the characters. Azulea is a really wonderful protagonist. She is spirited, resilient, and determined. I was happy to spend the entire novella following her. Her relationships with other characters also stood out. I loved reading the interactions between Azulea and her mother. They had a difficult, but ultimately very authentic relationship. Same with the relationship between Azulea and her grandmother. Finally, the romance was also very sweet. I wish we had gotten more of that as a plotline, because it does come up quickly towards the end of the story. Still, the engaging and complex characters made this book a real page-turner for me.

The Labyrinth’s Archivist is a short, refreshing, fun novella that blends fantasy and Middle Eastern culture in a beautiful way. Its characters are very interesting and drive the story forward. It involves disability representation and worldbuilding that are truly unique. Although it is short, this book is definitely worth your time.

Danika reviews Murder Under the Bridge by Kate Jessica Raphael

murderunderthebridge

Murder Under the Bridge is a mystery novel set in Palestine. It follows two characters: Rania, a Palestinian policewoman, and Chloe, a white Jewish-American journalist doing activism in Palestine. Although Rania is the main character, we do see a lot from Chloe’s perspective, who is the lesbian character. The mystery at the center of the story is about a young foreign woman found dead near the border of Israel and Palestine. Rania, one of the few women in the department, is forced to work closer with Israeli police than is comfortable.

What I found fascinating about this book was the setting. I haven’t read any other book set in Palestine, and this one felt so immersive and well-researched. It begins with several maps and “a note about names”, and it ends with a glossary. Kate Jessica Raphael is, in her words, “a white Jewish American who spent around eighteen months in Palestine, with brief forays into Israel.” She also spent six weeks in an Israeli immigration prison because of her activism. Although the plot revolves around investigating the mystery, the tension is around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is never a moment of absolute safety or certainty for the Palestinian characters, and the threat of violence or imprisonment is always just around the corner.

In addition to the setting, Rania and Chloe are both very well established characters. They are complex and compelling, and I felt equally invested in both of their stories, so switching perspectives never felt jarring or unwanted. I do wish the side characters got more development, however. There is a large cast of characters that I found myself losing track of (which is likely my own fault–I’m terrible with names), and I felt like Rania’s husband especially was a character that appears often but does not seem to be a round, interesting character. I wanted to see more from him, and from their relationship. Chloe’s love interest was intriguing, but I also wanted to know more about her, and it felt like their relationship popped up fairly suddenly.

I don’t read a lot of mysteries, so I can’t speak with authority about how the mechanism of the mystery functioned, but it worked well for me. The chapters are short, so it always felt easy to race through, although I felt like the focus was more on the setting and characters than fast-paced action (which isn’t a complaint).

I think that this is a fantastic read for anyone interested in reading a well-researched novel set in Palestine, and it has definitely spurred me to want to pick up more, especially from a Palestinian author.