Shad Hadid and the Alchemists of Alexandria by George Jreije
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of pages: 304
Published: October 4th, 2022
Source: Giveaway sponsored by Literary Rambles and the publisher
Opening Line: "There was no such thing as magic."
12-year-old Shad Hadid aspires to be a baker, dreaming of making delectable Arabic sweets like baklava and knafeh. When not at school or making meals for his beloved, Teta, Shad is at his favorite bakery. Often, he can be found peering into the window, drooling over the smells drifting from the shop, a constant reminder of his Baba and the shop they used to own in Lebanon.
Then one day while Shad is heading home, he has a run in with his nemesis, Sarah. Once he and Sarah were friends but now, she and her friends find pleasure in bullying him instead. Trying to outrun the barrage of eggs they're tossing at him; Shad flees into an alley. It's here that he encounters something even scarier than Sarah, a dark shadow or necromancer. Just as things look bleak, Shad is saved by a powerful alchemist, none other than the baker Kahem. Although the necromancer disappears, Sarah continues to be relentless in her attack, it isn't until Shad unleashes his family's secret weapon, a stink bomb that he is finally able escape her. Impressed by Shad, Kahem explains that he and Shad come from a long line of Alchemists, that are slowly dying out. Seeing potential in Shad, Kahem begins to train him.
As Shad receives his training under Kahem, he learns that Alchemists use science, special ingredients and the power of their imagination. In Kahem's workshop, he begins to blend ingredients and follow the traditions that were passed down to him from his Baba. Just as Shad begins to make progress, Kahem disappears, and Shad receives devasting news that has him shook. Shad is even attacked by another necromancer and only by sheer luck escapes. It's then he receives an invitation to attend the prestigious Alexandria Academy a place that can help him to further hone his skills. Yet, everything at the Academy is not as it seems, no one seems to recall Alchemy and instead it has turned into an Academy solely based on science. Even worse, Shad finds his bullies, Sarah and his stepbrother have followed him to his new school. Plus, it seems that the necromancers have infiltrated the school and are after the ingredients to a powerful recipe that Shad may hold the key to.
Shad Hadid and the Alchemists of Alexandria is an exciting adventure that centers a young Arab boy as our hero. Shad is a character full of heart, he shows a lot of determination, and I just loved the way that he always tries to stand up to his bullies. Especially how he is protective over others, even intervening to help someone else being bullied, despite possibly placing himself in danger. I also loved his enthusiasm for baking and wanting to create Lebanese deserts. I love how his culture is so important to him and wanting to preserve the traditions that he grew up with. It's also really sweet the way that he took care of his Teta, cooking her favorite dishes and the respect and love that he showed toward her I found quite admirable.
The story was interesting in the way it explores alchemy and the various components and ingredients that Shad needed to combine for his recipes, even common things like salt and sugar were added to gold and lead with often surprising results. The alchemy in the story is not based off of magic, rather the combination of certain ingredients in a special way with the alchemist's intent as the final piece of the recipe. I can't say that Shad is a perfect alchemist, but he is quite imaginative and can pull things together on the fly.
One of the components of the story that I cared for less was the amount of bullying that was happening. I'm not a huge fan of bullying in general, although I do get that in a story like this it does illustrate the good vs evil and how sometimes people can change. Initially there was Sarah to contend with, but then Shad's stepbrother and his gang appeared, sometimes it felt like just too much. What did work for me however were the necromancers, I found their plans to be quite nefarious. The way they infiltrated the school, turning more and more of the students and professors to their dark, shadow alchemy. Another highlight of the story were the positive relationships that Shad forms at his new school. Donny, Rey, Sarah, and Hayati, who he quickly forms a bond with. Just like his Teta predicted, Shad finds people he can depend on, and Sarah finally apologizing for the falling out they had in the past was a beautiful way of mending their friendship. Overall, I enjoyed the Lebanese representation, the lovely descriptions of foods and sweets, the humorous way the author used the word "figs" as an insult, the inclusion of the beautiful Alexandria Library and the emphasis on science and chemistry. I'm looking forward to seeing what George Jreije has in store for Shad and his friends next.
** A huge thank you to Natalie Aguirre at Literary Rambles and Harper Collins for my review copy. **
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