REVIEW: The Daughters of Izdihar by Hadeer Elsbai

Last Updated on January 8, 2023

Magic. Suffrage. Revolution. These are the three things at the centre of Hadeer Elsbai’s debut The Daughters of Izdihar. Set in an Egyptian-inspired world, probably around the turn of the twentieth century in terms of comparison to our society, this story is drawn around two young women: Nehal, a spoiled aristocrat who wants to learn magic and join the revolutionary movement, and Giorgina, a bookseller in love with an unsuitable man, entangled with both magic and revolution. When they meet, the two realise that they have far more in common than their connection to the same man – Nehal’s unwanted husband and Giorgina’s lover.

Cover of The Daughters of IzdiharHadeer Elsbai weaves a story of revolution big and small, of women looking to find their place in the world as they are in their own lives. The Daughters of Izdihar is wonderful, compelling and real – making her an author to watch out for. I especially loved the characters in this. Both Nehal and Giorgina seemed rather shallow and simply drawn when the reader first meets them, but the more the story progresses, the more substance gets put on them. They are fleshed out as they grow, their portrayal mirroring their character arcs. And it is their story. They are the architects of the rise and fall of the story beats. They may not be the only important characters – or even always at the centre of the plot – but they are the catalysts, they are the moving force, the soul of The Daughters of Izdihar.

If I did have to draw comparisons, I would say the closest is a cross between C.L. Clark’s The Unbroken and P. Djeli Clark’s A Master of Djinn – both excellent books in their own right. As these comps show, the setting is crucial to The Daughters of Izdihar. Inspired by late nineteenth and early twentieth century Egypt, the story is rooted in its cultural background, interacting with the setting as much as with individual characters, using it as a character itself. One thing I was curious about – and this may well be discussed in the next book – is how the setting of The Daughters of Izdihar fits into its own cultural context. I wondered if the suffragist movement was happening in reaction to other movements or as a pioneering one, if there was communication across cultural divides.

As you can see, I adored The Daughters of Izdihar. An excellent debut with strong characters, smart ideas and revolutionary energy motivating readers to think about what they could do to improve their own surroundings. I can’t wait to see Hadeer Elsbai be successful in the future.

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.