The Forty Thieves: Marjana’s Tale

Written by Christy Lenzi
Review by Xina Marie Uhl

The One Thousand and One Nights story starring Ali Baba and his forty thieves is retold from the eyes of Marjana, a slave girl living in the home of cruel masters. Tenth-century Baghdad comes to life as Marjana tries to keep her younger brother, Jamal, on the straight and narrow – and out of a dangerous street gang. Marjana is drawn into Ali Baba’s struggles with the forty thieves as the tale unfolds. Complications arise when a fellow slave named Saja tries to befriend her, bringing joy and pain in equal measures. This take on the classic tale makes the mysteries of Arabia accessible for a new generation.

Short, fast-paced chapters combined with compelling action and high emotional stakes keep this novel traveling along at a satisfying pace. The Arabic world of magic and danger is evoked with carefully selected details and beautiful descriptions, with just a tad too much exposition, that nevertheless give the reader a vibrant sense of the setting.

Clever turns on old, tired tropes and clichés like flying carpets and fortune telling give the story a refreshing feel. The protagonist is tripped up by her troubles and flaws in such a way that momentum is maintained. Whisper “Open Sesame!” when you open this book, and you won’t be disappointed with the magic that flows out and the dazzling adventures it unfolds.