Title: Stealing Thunder
Author: Alina Boyden
Publication Date: May 12, 2020
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Shelves: Female-fronted, female-authored, transgender
As the first adult fantasy novel with a trans woman main character, written by a trans woman author, ever to be published by a mainstream press in the United States, I had high hopes for Stealing Thunder. I didn’t just want it to be good, I needed it to be good, to set the example, and to open the shelves for more books like it. Yeah, I put some pretty heavy expectations on Alina Boyden, but she delivered a book I feel like I’ve been waiting my entire life to read. This was absolutely amazing.
Born to wealth and power as a Crown Prince, Razia Khan gave up everything to be true to her feminine soul. She ran away from home, away from the scorn and the abuse, to become a hijra. With a social standing below that of the most debased laborer, and a death sentence waiting should her past be revealed, she has still found happiness with her dera (house).
Let me pause there for a moment. Razia, Sakshi, and Lakshmi are women with personalities, backstory, and depth. They are characters you want to read about, people you come to care for very easily, and their found-family dynamic is fantastic. They are all hijra, with their own stories to tell, possessed of a strength that you cannot help but admire. Arjun, the dashing fairy tale Prince who captures Razia’s heart is perhaps a little too perfect, but one can hardly begrudge the Princess her Prince. Even Karim, the cruel, mocking, abusive monster from Razia’s past, proves to have some interesting facets, with a character arc that genuinely surprised me.
In terms of setting and world-building, this is very much a desert fantasy, inspired by the history and culture of South Asia. That means there’s a learning curve with the language and terminology, but I found it very easy to pick up on (there is a Glossary at the back). What shifts it from historical fantasy to epic fantasy, however, is the colorful dragons – or, more properly, the zahhaks. These are fantastic creatures, with the different breeds having the power of fire, ice, or acid. Sultana, the zahhak that Razia had to leave behind, is a character herself, and watching these magnificent beasts being flown in battle is simply breathtaking.
The romance between Razia and Arjun is definitely a major part of the story, and the way in which he loves her as a woman, accepts her as hijra, and defends her as a Princess is glorious. While he has a lot to do with creating the opportunity, Razia deserves the credit for empowering herself and standing up to those who would ignore her, shun her, and discard her. She repeatedly proves herself, demonstrating incredible bravery, and manages to become a true heroine, a warrior Princess, even while still being a proud hijra. Her story arc takes her from daring scenes of thievery, to tense scenes of politics and strategy, to exhilarating scenes of battle.
The worst part of Stealing Thunder was that it had to end. I kept looking at the page numbers left, knowing Razia’s story was almost done, and I didn’t want to leave her or her world. Fortunately, there is a very brief tease of a sequel at the end, and that makes me very happy indeed.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.