The Hood of Aalayfa (The Aalayfan Series, Book #1)
The Hood of Aalayfa was published in 2016. I received an ebook copy from NetGalley, but as always, all thoughts are my own.
Content Warnings: Sex, rape
Cloaked in the mists of Mesopotamia is the mysterious world of Aalayfa, an alternate reality made of the fragments of Tiamat, the Dragon Mother. It is precisely this world that compels the Soultana of Siduri to cross realities, journeying to find Anatat, a Hood of Aden who serves as a minion to the current queen.
Anatat is not expecting the powerful being rattling with power that comes crashing through the gates with large vipers in her hair. Even more astonishing is the familiarity she feels for the beguiling sorceress who ushers her into the isolated desert to initiate her into a heightened state of awareness.
For Anatat, it is more than a matter of loyalty but also of trust as she and the sorceress are pulled below the surface of the desert into the underworld of the Chilala, the desert spirits. It is in there that Anatat is intrigued to learn of a parallel self living in a very different reality where the story of lovers unfolds in modern day London.
Between the two earth realities, stories interweave: Orion trees, inter-dimensional wolves, shape-shifting crows, python lovers, green haired maidens, flying ships, talking cobras, blue skinned giants, seers, warriors, scorpion queens, desert spirits, and nocturnal structures that lurk in the shadows between time and space; and then there is Queen Heliandra, who would go to any lengths to maintain power over them all.
Tracing her origins through the dimensions, Anatat and the sorceress travel relentlessly, embodying various ancient archetypes that lead them to the ultimate truth about their own personal relationship and that of the cosmos.
“Here I whisper to you about impermanence, Xibalba I tell you is that awesome place, where magic and mystery can awaken in you, where you can finally see your own face.”
“So I invite you Xibalba where you and I can discover each other again,
creation never really begun once upon a time, that linear idea is perpetuated by linear men.”
“Xibalba is the place where we create a lie, where you pretend to be separated from me, but divine love will certainly unite us once again, the higher you evolve the more you will see.”
Sylvia Xamanka wastes no time in establishing atmosphere and complex characters in The Hood of Aalayfa, and she continues to do so throughout the story; the book is basically one gigantic build-up to…something. While at first the non-stop action and perspective switching were exhilarating, they grew to be tiresome as the web of the world developed into something more complex and intense, and as the wonder and awe of the conceptual themes wore off. By the final pages, I felt too disoriented and overwhelmed to effectively grasp the purpose of the story; I had to refer back to the summary to put the pieces of what I read back together.
To put it generally, The Hood of Aalayfa doesn’t feel complete. All of the elements of an Epic story are within, but those elements are just not fleshed out enough to convince me of the different rules, figureheads, species, and customs within the reality created by the author. Most of the book was spent trying to work out my confusion and sense of place as well as the characters’ positions within the story, while also trying to process some of the profound statements being made. Thoughtful discussions about power, self-reflection, fear, death, religion are being had by almost every character, but ultimately it all was overshadowed by an unraveling plot and an ever-moving pace.
Additionally, the misogyny is nearly unbearable to read. The women (deities? royalty? figures?) are described to be the ones from whom the world gets its energy and life, but giving energy and life is all for the sake of a male figure who is the all-powerful God/God figure. The women are supposed to revel in and enjoy their power, but also celebrate their submissiveness to this higher power (man). If it wasn’t for the borderline preachy tone of the book, this aspect might have been worthy of dissection.
So with less of a sanctimonious tone and more fleshed out aspects of the world and its inhabitants (in far more pages), this would have been the book for me. Unfortunately it brought me very little satisfaction.