Audiobook Review: Travelers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi

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A ragtag band of misfits gets swept up in Holy Land politics in Travelers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi, a thrilling YA remix of the classic legend of Robin Hood.

Jerusalem, 1192.
 The Third Crusade rages on. Rahma al-Hud loyally followed her elder sister Zeena into the war over the Holy Land, but now that the Faranji invaders have gotten reinforcements from Richard the Lionheart, all she wants to do is get herself and her sister home alive.

But Zeena, a soldier of honor at heart, refuses to give up the fight while Jerusalem remains in danger of falling back into the hands of the false Queen Isabella. And so, Rahma has no choice but to take on one final mission with her sister.

On their journey to Jerusalem, Rahma and Zeena come across a motley collection of fellow travelers—including a softspoken Mongolian warrior, an eccentric Andalusian scientist, a frustratingly handsome spy with a connection to Rahma’s childhood, and an unfortunate English chaplain abandoned behind enemy lines. The teens all find solace, purpose and camaraderie—as well as a healthy bit of mischief—in each other’s company.

But their travels soon bring them into the orbit of Queen Isabella herself, whose plans to re-seize power in Jerusalem would only guarantee further war and strife in the Holy Land for years to come. And so it falls to the merry band of misfits to use every scrap of cunning and wit (and not a small amount of thievery) to foil the usurper queen and perhaps finally restore peace to the land. 

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As I keep reiterating all the time on the blog, I didn’t grow up on classics so while I know the basic premise of Robin Hood, I’ve never actually read the book nor watched any adaptations. In a similar vein, I bought a book about the Crusades years ago but like many others, I never managed to read much of it. So when I saw the classic and history colliding in this remix version, I knew I would enjoy this book and I’m glad that I did.

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I preordered this audiobook because I had a feeling it would be cool and it really was such an easy one to get through. The narrator Shiromi Arserio kept me engaged with her beautiful voice right from the get go and I didn’t take much breaks while listening. It also helps that this is a quick read, throughly entertaining, and with a motley group of characters who are easy to like. Even though the storyline is set during the Crusades, in the middle of the war between multiple countries, factions and religions, and Jerusalem stands as a prize to be snatched, we mostly only get a sense of adventure here and other than a couple dark and emotional scenes, we don’t see the gruesome effects of this war first hand.

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Similarly, our characters are traversing through multiple sieges and armies and while the stakes seem too high and dangerous, after the first couple of times, I was sure that nothing would happen to any of them. Then it was time to just enjoy their adventure. We only get one POV, that is Rahma and she is a fun one to be in the head of. She landed up so far away from home because she couldn’t let her elder sister go alone to war. Her heart may not be in fighting for a cause like religion and the Holy Land but she is a scrappy survivor and resourceful enough to get herself out of tricky situations and protect her sister by coming up with one harebrained scheme after another. But she also has this kind and compassionate side to her and even though she doesn’t have a cause like all the others fighting in the war, she makes it her choice to fight for all the normal people who are suffering due to the warmongering of their rulers. Her path to becoming an accidental Robin Hood-esque figure is both endearing and fun and I loved her maneuvering everyone into doing what she wanted.

And there’s the accidental crew or found family she gathers around her who are very different from each other but also fit together so perfectly. First there’s Rahma’s sister Zeena who has deep conviction that she needs to fight for the Holy Land and is full of anger. Both of them are bickering almost every single moment and while it took me a while to get to used to, their love for each other is immense.

They are first joined by Teni, a warrior from beyond the steppes, who isn’t ready to go back home yet and joins them to maybe find her own adventure. Then comes Viva who is acyoung Jewish alchemist who doesn’t really have a home because of how all the invaders have destroyed her people. And then the group is rounded off by John, who is a disillusioned chaplain with the Knights Templar and also a healer, who probably just wants a new purpose in life without the violence. They are also joined sometimes by Majid, a mysterious spy and Rahma’s childhood friend who might be more than that. Teni’s bravery, Viva’s honesty, John’s quick thinking and Majid’s convincing skills all combine with Rahma’s scheming to give us a whole lot of adventures along their journey. I also loved how the author managed to get together a crew belonging to all the faiths who have a stake in the Holy Land and despite what the wars the rulers representing these faiths are fighting, the author managed to convey beautifully that the common people could get along well if they wanted to because ultimately they were suffering equally. It was also interesting to see the other side of this, getting small glimpses into what Richard the Lionheart, Sultan Saladin and Queen Isabella of Jerusalem were thinking.

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In conclusion, this one felt like a classic adventure tale that captured the spirit of Robin Hood while giving us a very interesting setting like the cities around Jerusalem during the Crusades in the late 12th century. While I can’t say how close or different it is from the original, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. And even though things felt like they came too easy for our heroine, it was still a fun journey to be on with a cool group of characters. This remixed classics series is turning out to be such a unique experience and I can’t wait to next get my hands on the new versions of Wuthering Heights and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

5 star

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