I declare that 2022 is the year of the middle grade for me. So when I got approved to read an ARC of Nura and the Immortal Palace, I was so excited. This middle grade debut is full of laughter, action, and friendship. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
I immediately loved Nura’s character. She is ambitious and compassionate even if her desires sometimes lead her in the wrong direction. Growing up in child labor working in the mines, she just wants to steal slivers of happiness. Moments where she has the agency over her own life. A hand in her own fate. Even more than that, she wishes for things to be easier for her family, for her siblings to go to school, for security. While she can act first, and think about the consequences afterwards, Nura is a middle grade heroine I would have loved as a child.
Beginning with immediate action, Nura and the Immortal Palace is sure to sweep readers off their feet. It balances adventures and riddles to be solved with real conversations about child labor and about poverty. Of not wanting to fall into another trap of servitude which preys on children, their naivety, their hope, and their love. At the same time, Nura and the Immortal Palace examines generalizations. How we can believe we know everything there is about people and really know nothing at all.
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Nura must figure out throughout this book who she can trust and who is going to be her true friend. There may be more to people than we can see, but through time and experiences, we learn who is worth our time and love. What the difference is between wanting something more for our loved ones, ourselves, and true greed. Nura and the Immortal Palace is a fantastic fantasy debut for middle grade readers. It has a steady current of action and adventure, while also centering an endearing heroine all with a core of friendship. Find Nura and the Immortal Palace on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.