REVIEW: A Tempest of Tea by Hafsah Faizal

A Tempest of Tea

Hafsah Faizal’s A Tempest of Tea is a triumphant anti-colonial love letter to her fantasy readers. The #1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning author initially caught the attention of the book community with her Arabia-inspired Sands of Arawiya duology. A Tempest of Tea, whilst set in the same universe as Faizal’s well-loved duology, follows Arthie Casimir across the world from Arawiya in Ettenia, Faizal’s fictional rendition of England. Arthie and her adoptive brother Jin run a notorious tearoom known as Spindrift, which transforms into an illegal blood-house for vampires at night. Whilst vampires roam free in society, they are very much ostracized and Spindrift allows the feared beings some reprieve and privacy. When their much-beloved establishment is threatened by a governmental force known as The Ram, Arthie and Jin must orchestrate a seemingly impossible heist in the heart of a vampire stronghold in order to gain leverage against the impending threat. In order to do so, they recruit a number of unlikely allies, which includes striking a deal with an Arawiyyan-born government official. As the plan builds, secrets are revealed and conspiracies are cracked wide open. In this thrilling first book of a new fantasy duology, Hafsah Faizal brews a story steeped in angst, thrills and the promise of revenge.

A Tempest of TeaCompared to Peaky Blinders and the Legend of King Arthur, it is no surprise that Faizal’s world-building is spectacular; she paints out her settings and lore so vividly, one would think they’re walking the streets of the city of White Roaring themselves. With such multi-faceted characters, we are given equally multi-faceted points of views. Flitting between Arthie, Jin and Felicity (or more affectionately known as Flick) was refreshing, with all three main characters being people of colour and witnessing each of their unique and diverse experiences. Arthie’s brooding and serious image is countered by her brother, Jin. They are family in every way except through blood, and they certainly do not let that stand in their way. Jin, in comparison to Arthie, is charming and flirtatious, and his sister’s most trusted partner-in-crime. I adored these two as a team. With the further additions of Flick as their master forger, Laith (and his unnamed kitten) as their stealthiest teammate, and Matteo as their rakish vampire ally, an unlikely group is formed; one that works so entertainingly well!

Whilst this young adult novel has all the thrills of vampire society, found-family and hints of romance, it is still set on a much darker foundation. Arthie’s childhood in Ceylan (based on the author’s background of Sri Lanka), is stained by the murder of her mother at the hands of Ettenian colonists. Arthie’s entire existence in Ettenia feels grimdark in nature; having witnessed her mother’s brutal murder at such a young age, Arthie’s existence is fuelled by rage, and the vengeance she hopes to enact on the colonial forces of the country she resides in. Opening up an illegal tearoom and hosting the city’s most alienated population of vampires is one of the many ways Arthie bares her teeth at the empire. I can vaguely ensure (in order to avoid spoilers) that aspects of the novel get significantly darker, making this a story that grimdark fans would really enjoy.

The pacing of the story was a bit stifling; the first half was quite slow, but then significantly picks up in the second. There were aspects of the book that I felt were slightly underdeveloped. The whole premise of the book balances on the axis that is Sprindrift, but we are only ever in the setting for a few chapters. I would have loved to seen more of it, as it seemed to be quite a foundational element to both Arthie and Jin’s life. The romance aspect fell short for me because it ultimately felt slightly forced. Jin’s romantic storyline with Flick fared better than Arthie’s storyline with Laith (and sometimes Matteo), as there was a sense of history between them that built towards their feelings for each other. For a character as untrusting as Arthie, the romantic development with Laith simply felt too rushed.

Faizal’s writing is both captivating and bewitching, and my admiration for this novel has steeped further since finishing it; the characters and story have stayed with me weeks later, and I imagine they will continue to do so until I am taken out of my misery of waiting for the sequel.

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Saberin C

Saberin C

Saberin lives in London and works in publishing. More often than not, you can find her with her nose in a fantasy book or doing whatever it takes to get her cats attention! You can find her on @sabisreading on instagram, where she posts all about her current reads, reviews, fictional fixations and general ramblings on life (with the occasional picture of Kiara, the meanest cat to ever exist).

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