Hello, friends! It’s my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for Nura and the Immortal Palace by M.T. Khan and I’m excited to share my review and favourite quotes with you today!
Thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
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Goodreads: Nura and the Immortal Palace
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 28 June 2022
Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy
Rep: Pakistani, Muslim
Aru Shah and the End of Time meets Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away in this mesmerizing portal fantasy that takes readers into the little-known world of Jinn.
Nura longs for the simple pleasure of many things—to wear a beautiful red dupatta or to bite into a sweet gulab. But with her mom hard at work in a run-down sweatshop and three younger siblings to feed, Nura must spend her days earning money by mica mining. But it’s not just the extra rupees in her pocket Nura is after. Local rumor says there’s buried treasure in the mine, and Nura knows that finding it could change the course of her family’s life forever.
Her plan backfires when the mines collapse and four kids, including her best friend, Faisal, are claimed dead. Nura refuses to believe it and shovels her way through the dirt hoping to find him. Instead, she finds herself at the entrance to a strange world of purple skies and pink seas—a portal to the opulent realm of jinn, inhabited by the trickster creatures from her mother’s cautionary tales. Yet they aren’t nearly as treacherous as her mother made them out to be, because Nura is invited to a luxury jinn hotel, where she’s given everything she could ever imagine and more.
But there’s a dark truth lurking beneath all that glitter and gold, and when Nura crosses the owner’s son and is banished to the working quarters, she realizes she isn’t the only human who’s ended up in the hotel’s clutches. Faisal and the other missing children are there, too, and if Nura can’t find a way to help them all escape, they’ll be bound to work for the hotel forever.
Note: The quotes below are taken from an advanced/unfinished copy and are subject to change in the final version.
TL;DR: This is definitely one of the more unique fantasies that I’ve read not simply because of the diversity and representation but because of the issues that it tackles through a middle-grade story. I haven’t read Aru Shah but Spirited Away is one of my all-time favourites and I think the richness of the Pakistani inspired fantasy world that Khan creates through the Immortal Palace is a very worthy comparison. Nura and the Immortal Palace is less than 300 pages in length so I was initially worried that the story would be rushed, but save for a few difficulties I had with it, I thought that it was well-written and well-executed!
CW/TW: child labour, death of a parent, arson, bombing
“There is wealth of money, but even greater is the wealth of mind.”
Khan’s writing flowed nicely and the story was well-paced. I absolutely loved how she infused the richness of her Pakistani culture onto the pages—from the mouth-wateringly delicious foods (I developed a serious craving for even just a bite of gulab after reading this) to the bright and colourful fashions to the importance of the Muslim faith and the celebration of Eid-al-Fitr. It was so refreshing to read in a fantasy that’s so unapologetically Muslim and there’s so much for the eyes and mind to feast upon in these pages!
“There is so, so much more out there. I wish I was able to show you. Become better than me, Nura. Then, one day, you’ll not only see it all for yourself, but show it to others too.”
The world-building was fantastic and I was transported as much as Nura as she steps through this portal into the world of the Jinn. Khan created this vividly terrifying yet magical setting that’s rich in its abundance of everything one could ever wish for when it comes to riches and absolute luxury. I loved the way the hotel and the different forms of Jinn came so easily to life and it wasn’t at all difficult to picture the Space, Time, and Matter wards of the hotel—I found these different sections fascinating and honestly, if the Jinn weren’t so terrifying, I’d love to spend some time in this hotel and the Space ward, please! 😂
“People in power love to pit the helpless against each other—it’s an easy way to keep them busy and weak so that they’ll never rise high enough to fight.”
That said, I think if you’re expecting a magical and whimsical tale, you might be a little disappointed. There is certainly a great deal of magic, wonder, and thanks to the Jinn’s inherent nature, a lot of trickery on these pages but the themes combined with our main character’s irritable nature, lends the story a more serious tone that I felt took a bit of the fun away. However, I really appreciated the inclusion of issues such as child labour, poverty and education and how they were woven into the story. It’s a harrowing and heartbreaking reality that many children in developing countries continue to face and I loved how Khan tackles it. It’s a vicious cycle of poverty and while the author doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of these situations for readers, I do think that she presents and handles these topics sensitively!
“We’re creatures of guts and intuition—of chaos and mayhem, and that’s exactly what we’re about to showcase.”
I enjoyed the story overall but there were a few issues I had the prevented me from loving it. One of the things I had difficulty with was my inability to develop an emotional connection to any of the characters. It was heartbreaking to read about their situations and of course, I wanted them to succeed but there was something that kept me from connecting with them, and it might’ve been Nura’s character and the story being told through her POV. I thought Nura was a complex and interesting character and while she experienced personal growth by the end of the story, I found her attitude to be unpleasant for most of it. I understand why she was the way she was—to say she’s had a ‘hard life’ would be understating it and her tough exterior is what helped her return to the mines everyday. In her life, there’s no roo for desiring things like an education because it would just lead to disappointment. There’s no questioning her drive and determination to succeed in anything; whether it be for the right or wrong reasons, if it’s something she wants, Nura will fight tooth and nail to get it and I admired that about her. At the same time, she was often unwilling to give others a chance to voice their thoughts/opinions if it was in opposition to hers (which it usually was) and she was often flat-out mean and rude to practically everyone, even Faisal who was meant to be her best friend. This attitude started to grate on me as the story progressed and sadly, it did make the read a little less enjoyable.
“Magic isn’t only reserved for the jinn realm; it’s here too if we look long enough.”
Overall though, I’d say this was a smashing debut! I loved that Khan gave us such a vibrant story that brought to life this amazing Pakistani Muslim inspired fantasy world that tackles tough but important topics without sugarcoating or watering it down. If you enjoyed the bath house vibe in Spirited Away, then you’re sure to enjoy Nura and the Immortal Palace.
M.T. Khan is a speculative fiction author with a penchant for all things myth, science, and philosophy. She focuses on stories that combine all three, dreaming of evocative worlds and dark possibilities.
When she’s not writing, M.T. Khan has her nose deep in physics textbooks or glued to her CAD computer as she majors in Mechanical Engineering. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, she currently resides in Toronto, Canada, with a hyperactive cat and an ever-increasing selection of tea. Her forthcoming debut, NURA AND THE IMMORTAL PALACE, hits shelves on July 5th 2022 from Little, Brown.
Have you read Nura and the Immortal Palace or is it on your TBR?