July 20, 2022

ARC REVIEW Nura and the Immortal Palace by M.T. Khan

Nura and the Immortal Palace by M.T. Khan
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: July 5, 2022
Format: eARC (Provided by Publisher through NetGalley)
Publisher: James Patterson Presents (Little Brown Books for Young Readers) 

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The description of M.T. Khan’s debut novel Nura and the Immortal Palace promised a story that is Aru Shah meets Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away, and it delivered on all of that and more. Readers follow young protagonist Nura as she is whisked away into the magical and secretive world of the jinn. Once there, she must race against the clock to escape the hotel before it's too late, and she is bound in service there forever. 

I love getting introductions to cultures through books, and this book in particular introduced readers to some aspects of Muslim culture and stories. For example, you get to see Nura’s excitement for Eid, the emphasis on Islamic values, gulab jamuns (which sound yummy and I’m now determined to try), and lehengas. Readers are also introduced to some of the cultural folktales, specifically those focusing on the mischievous jinn. There’s so much depth and nuance to the jinn (similarly to how there are many different versions of the fae), and I enjoyed Ms. Khan’s unique spin on the species. Thanks to the story I now know that I should not sign any contracts given to me by strange creatures before thoroughly reviewing them. I also appreciate the reminder that if one’s elders have told repeatedly told you about how the jinn hate humans, you should probably keep that in mind while traversing their realm. 

Worldbuilding is one of the highlights of Studio Ghibli productions in my opinion, and this book certainly earned that parallel/comparison. The descriptions were vivid and intricate; I never had an issue envisioning the picture Ms. Khan was painting with her words. While the story does spend some time in a fictional version of our world, it was a delight to see how imaginative the world of the jinn was. Ms. Khan brings the opulence of the hotel to life for the readers through Nura’s eyes, and it was fun getting to experience her childlike wonder and awe. I likened the experience to Alice falling through the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. The glitz and glamour of the hotel are just a facade though, as there is a realistic and much darker aspect that the owner tries to keep hidden from guests. 

While this is undoubtedly a fun tale fit for most children, it doesn’t hold back from tackling some tougher topics (in a child-friendly way). For example, M.T. Khan highlights the perils of child labor, and how poverty is often a perpetual cycle when children are not given access to a proper education. Nura, in particular, does not envision a future where she is not working in the mines and aspires to save enough to send her younger siblings to school so they can escape the family’s situation. I’m positive I’ve never seen the issue of child labor touched upon in a children’s book before, and I was quite impressed by how well the author handled it. It can be a delicate tightrope in today’s politically charged climate to walk the line between touching on important social issues and maintaining the lighthearted feel that readers expect in children's books and the author seemed to navigate that challenge with ease. 

Overall, Nura and the Immortal Palace is a strong debut novel from M.T. Khan. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I hope to be able to read more books from the author in the future (especially following this storyline - it's unclear at the time this review was written whether or not there will be more books or if this was designed as a standalone). If you’re on the lookout for a magical children’s fantasy with diverse representation and important social messages, then you’ve come to the right place! I would recommend this book to readers at the upper middle grade reading level and above. 

Thank you to the author M.T. Khan, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, James Patterson Presents, and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary review copy of the book. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to read and review Nura and the Immortal Palace. Please note - I voluntarily read and reviewed the book. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and not influenced in any way. 

About the Book
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.

Set in a rural industrial town in Pakistan and full of hope, heart, and humor, Nura and the Immortal Palace is inspired by M.T. Khan's own Pakistani Muslim heritage.

About the Author

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.

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