Review: Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios
Left for dead during a deadly takeover by an evil jinni caste and then sold as a slave to a human through the dark caravan, Nalia is not your typical jinni. She is the last living jinni of her kind, which makes her, by default, the new Empress of Arjinna. Things are a bit more complicated than that, though. She is bound on Earth to her sadistic, ever-young master, Malek, who makes her grant the wishes of his sleazy clients, and who confuses her with his mood swings, which swing from violent to tender. Amidst all of this, Nalia struggles with feelings of guilt for things she did prior to the takeover, as well as her conflicting feelings between the two men in her life: Malek, and another jinni, Raif, who insists she is the only one who can help save Arjinna - but only if she can steal her bottle away from her master. As if life isn't tumultuous enough, she must now prepare for battle with a nightmarish ghoul who is determined to eat her heart out - literally. Does Nalia have the courage to sacrifice herself, both to her master and to the ghoul, in order to save that which is most precious to her?
I never read Arabian Nights, so I don't know how Exquisite Captive compares. My review is based solely on my reading of this book. With that said, I felt that the story was good overall, but it did have some drawbacks. The Arjinnian world that Heather Demetrios built sounded interesting, and I was intrigued by the explanation the different castes of jinni, but we learn most of this via info-dumps in the beginning of the book. It wasn't an organic process, and frankly, made it rather difficult to keep details and facts straight.
The characters were pretty well done, with Malek being the most intriguing and the most infuriating. He is a powerful, deadly man who seems to have developed a soft spot for Nalia, but his tenderness is punctuated with violent outbursts, which are eventually attributed to him being half-jinn himself, and of a caste known for their dark natures. Nalia, thankfully, understands that her confusing feelings towards Malek do not indicate love, but rather a helpless dependence on her master (also known as Stockholm Syndrome). What bothered me about this dynamic is that Malek's violence is attributed to his nature, and therefore, he "can't help it." I suppose this comes down to the age-old argument of nature vs. nurture. Is he really a born-monster who can't control himself, or is he a cunning predator who makes horrible decisions? Heather Demetrios did well to paint him with a softer, more vulnerable side as well, which makes him more well-rounded, but I remain dubious about his role further on in the series.
Despite a strong initial impression, Nalia herself was a bit of a bore in the first quarter of the book, but she did grow on me by the end. Raif's role was rather unmemorable until the final quarter of the book, when he finally did something more than hem and haw over what he really wanted. Finally, the ghoul's description terrified me, but his actions throughout most of the book became repetitive and boring. These are not things you want to associate with a villain!
The plot itself was interesting, but I felt the book dragged on a little too long, sagging quite a bit in the middle. There were times where I would glance longingly at another book I could read instead, but I like to finish what I started. There were references to a growing evil force in Arjinna, but then the focus would shift to Nalia doing yoga on the beach or enjoying a nighttime ride in her gifted Maserati. The continuity was off, and I wasn't quite convinced of the seriousness of what was happening in Arjinna, nor of Nalia's concern for her imprisoned brother and homeland. The epic battle on the beach, as well as the quick-moving scenes that followed, are what ultimately saved the book from a lower rating.
Will I read the next book in the series? Perhaps. I see on GoodReads that this book is rather polarizing; readers either loved it or hated it. My suggestion, dear reader? Find Exquisite Captive at the library and see if you'd like to make it a more permanent member of your bookshelf.