The Kingdom Over the Sea
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Published June 6, 2023
About The Kingdom Over the Sea
Aru Shah meets One Thousand and One Nights in this lavish middle grade adventure following a girl who must travel to a mystical land of sorceresses, alchemists, jinn, and flying carpets to discover her heritage and fulfill her destiny.
My own Yara, if you are reading this, then something terrible has happened, and you are on your own. To return to the city of Zehaira, you must read out the words on the back of this letter… Good luck, my brave girl.
When twelve-year-old Yara’s mother passes away, she leaves behind a letter and a strange set of instructions. Yara must travel from the home she has always known to a place that is not on any map—Zehaira, a world of sorcerers, alchemists and simmering magic. But Zehaira is not the land it used to be. The practice of magic has been outlawed, the Sultan’s alchemists are plotting a sinister scheme—and the answers Yara is searching for seem to be out of reach.
Yara must summon all her courage to discover the truth about her mother’s past and her own identity…and to find her place in this magical new world.
Right away, I fell into the magical world of this book. It begins as Yara grieves over her mama’s death and faces a difficult choice. A letter from her mama directs her to go to a strange place and speak a spell. She’s confused because she doesn’t believe magic exists. Why would her mama ask her to do something so bizarre? Ultimately, she figures she believes in the sincerity of her mama’s letter, so she tries it. And is whisked off to a magical world.
Something about the oppressive, dangerous world Yara finds herself in reminded me of THE FIREBIRD SONG. In both books, things have gotten pretty difficult. People tell the main characters they can’t help because they’re too young or don’t have the right skills. But ultimately, of course, the main characters have something no one else has and are positioned to help in ways no one else can.
I liked that the story centers on Yara’s abilities and choices, yet still felt really believable regarding what she does and her age. I loved the relationships between her and the other characters, especially the jinn she rescues her reluctant mentor, and her two new friends.
The pacing was a little different than I expected, and it didn’t feel slow or like it was dragging or anything. It emphasized elements of a quest that other stories might have skipped over. I liked that a lot, actually. It kept the story more centered around the characters. Even though a lot of things were happening to them, it made space for us to understand the impact of the twists and reveals as they emerged. I enjoyed that a lot.
Readers who enjoyed HAMRA AND THE JUNGLE OF MEMORIES by Hanna Alkaf should check this one out.
Content Notes for The Kingdom Over the Sea
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Middle Eastern-coded characters.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Yara frees a jinn who then helps her voluntarily. A couple of sorceress characters have familiars to help them with their magic. Some characters perform magic with words and potions.
Situations of peril. A person has been wrongfully imprisoned for years. A poison threatens the lives of anyone affected by it.
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