by Hanna Alkaf
Publication: April 19, 2022
**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
Nearly a year after the death of her best friend Trina Low, Najwa Bakri finally makes the difficult decision to return to competitive Scrabble. While she intended for the competition to help her heal, suspicions that Trina may have been murdered begin to make their rounds after there are new posts from Trina’s Instagram account. Now, Najwa is determined to find out what really happened the day Trina died.
For mystery and suspense aficionados, Queen of the Tiles may be easy pickings with the culprit pegged from the start. For someone who tends to stay away from these genres (I get too antsy and want to read the end), I was intrigued from the very beginning as Najwa recalls life with her best friend and the events leading up to her best friend’s death. Like many murder mysteries, multiple individuals may have wanted Trina dead, possibly even Najwa. Multiple scenarios were going through my head, including the one ultimately unveiled as what happened. Queen of the Tiles and the general plot isn’t particularly new. It even starts to feel like another cookie-cutter YA murder mystery when the Instagram posts begin showing up. The book was able to retain my attention because of the unique setting. I don’t play Scrabble, so did not realize Scrabble tournaments existed. It was a refreshing change from the normal settings of these mysteries, many of which have been at elite schools. Through the competition, Hanna Alkaf captures the general tone of The Queen’s Gambit (the series, not the book since I have not read it also please don’t strangle me for that) with players vying to be champion.
With the Scrabble tournament as the focal point, Hanna Alkaf’s writing shines through. When the plot began to lose my attention, it was her writing that continued to keep me engaged. The strategic use of words, the wordplay and how it was effortlessly implemented, had me in awe. Have you heard of the word syzygy? Neither had I until this book. Her prior novel The Girl and the Ghost was evocative and tugged at my emotions. With Queen of the Tiles, it was the attention to detail, the understanding of how words matter that had me enamored. The amount of research that went into the book must have been both immense and intense. It pays off here.
While the writing was what stood out to me, Hanna Alkaf also explores multiple topics such as grief, anxiety, and friendship. I appreciated the depth in which she broached each of these subjects through Najwa, allowing readers to see the complexities that exist and how experiences can be different from one person to the next.
Queen of the Tiles was a book I looked forward to as soon as I found out about it. While the plot was not as compelling as I hoped (3 stars), the setting and her writing (5 stars) kept me going to the end. My final rating is an average of these two elements. Individuals who love Scrabble, enjoy YA murder mysteries, or like The Queen’s Gambit will enjoy the novel.