Najwa has just walked into her first Scrabble tournament since the death of her best friend Trina. She’s hoping that playing again will help her to move on, and that by winning she can reclaim Trina’s title ‘Queen of the Tiles’. But she’s not the only one seeking victory. Now that Trina’s seat as reigning champ is empty, everyone is out to get it. And when at the start of the competition Trina’s Instagram account becomes active again with cryptic suggestions that her death was no accident, Najwa must figure out who is behind it all. As long-buried secrets come to life, will Najwa be able to protect, not only Trina’s memory, but herself as well?
I wanted to love this one SO BAD. It was one of my most anticipated releases from 2022 so needless to say, I’d set the bar high. This is the second time this has happened with a highly awaited release for me, where I’ll fall in love with the synopsis but then when I get around to reading it, I won’t be a big fan of the execution. The first time was with The Dream Runners and now Queen of the Tiles. I mean, Scrabble competition with a murder mystery? Who wouldn’t get excited for that! But here’s what didn’t work for me:
-The Characters: firstly, I found it a little disconcerting how all the characters treated Trina’s death like something they see every day. I mean, if I watched someone die in front of me, no matter how much I disliked them, I’d be SHOOK. But everyone in this book made it seem a little nonchalant, some even going so far as treating it like some sort of game. This of course wasn’t the case with Najwa, but, an instance that really stood out to me was when one of the characters had the gall to ask whether or not he’s won his Scrabble match even though his opponent (Trina) has literally just died in front of his eyes. Another thing, I know this is a murder mystery but every single person in this book came with some sort of toxic trait attached to them. Whether it was cheating, bullying or shaming, there was no one here for the reader to root for. Even the main character herself wasn’t very likable. But the worst of them all was Trina. From the flashbacks we get of her throughout the story she is rude and self-centered which leads into my second point…
-The Mystery: because I found Trina to be so unlikable, I found it hard to bring myself to care about the mystery which revolved around her. Also, I feel like the story wasn’t given enough room to be fleshed out. The last quarter of this book was WILD and, while I did enjoy the fast pacing, and there was one plot twist in particular that I thought was pretty clever, the ending still left me wanting more. It almost felt like the author got to the end and had kind of run out of ideas so she just pinned the blame on the easiest victim and called it a day on the whole thing.
-Definition Overuse: while I loved the idea of Najwa knowing everyone’s ‘tells’ which helped her to determine whether or not someone was lying, one thing that I felt was overused was the words accompanied by definitions. This is something that definitely worked in the chapter heads but eventually led to a bogging down of the narrative due to overuse in the prose.
I didn’t mean for this to turn into a rant so I’ll finish on a more positive note 😅 I’ve already mentioned how I liked the incorporation of people’s ‘tells’, and the plot twist which was really clever but I also wanted to give a shout out to the diversity. I’d never read a book set in Malaysia before, and the inclusion of the language as well as the Muslim rep makes this book really important. So, while I didn’t end up enjoying the story overall, I can still see myself recommending this book as I know it’s one that will help to make underrepresented readers feel seen. And I’d still be interested in checking out some of the author’s other works because I feel like I would’ve enjoyed this one a lot more had it not been a mystery. Happy Reading 😉
2 responses to “Review: Queen of the Tiles by Hanna Alkaf”
A great review and an excellent description of the book!