Hunted By The Sky: How Tanaz Bhathena gives YA Fantasy a Desi Twist

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Hunted By The Sky is the first book in the Wrath of Ambar duology. Written by Indo-Canadian author Tanaz Bhathena, it follows the life of Gul in the magical land of Ambar, ruled by a tyrant. Here, the inherent nature of people to perform magic labels them as either magi or non-magi. Marked with a star on her upper arm, the following prophecy destines Gul to be the Star Warrior of Ambar and bring the nation its salvation.

The sky will fall, a star will rise,

Ambar changed by the king’s demise

Her magic untouched and unknown by all

Marked with a star, she’ll bring his downfall.

I hope you heaved a nostalgic sigh after reading the book’s description. It’s quite reminiscent of all the young adult heroes and their fictional worlds we’ve grown up reading about — curse marks, The Chosen One, rebellion against a tyrant, suppressed powers and of course, the flawed protagonist’s psychological conflicts which make us adore them even more. In addition to all this, a slow-burn romance which keeps us on our toes just the same. Even after reading the likes of Homer and Toni Morrison, I think nothing beats the adrenaline rush of a YA fantasy fresh off the hook. The sense of belongingness and the realization that even characters from a fictional world can map our internal struggles has always granted this genre an appeal of its own. Placing all these tropes in a desi setting, Tanaz Bhathena’s Hunted By The Sky hits close to home.

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Hunted By The Sky: How Tanaz Bhathena gives YA Fantasy a Desi Twist
Tanaz Bhathena

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The setting of the book, including the city of Ambarvadi, the majestic Raj Mahal, the squalid tenements and the mysterious land of Tavan resemble medieval India. The author intricately maps out this new mythical universe within us in an unforgettable way. Even after a few months of reading the book, the history surrounding Ambar hardly fade away. Through this detailed account of Ambar, the author also highlights the class differences.

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While the magi (people who can do magic) constitute the military of the King and have better living conditions, the non-magi (people who cannot do magic) serve the King from the tenements. These tensions play a major role in driving the plot and form another universal theme within YA fantasy. “The magic that’s described in the book is more of an innate natural ability—and while it’s powerful, it comes at a cost to everyone who uses it. There is no easy solution to anything in the real world—and it was important to me that my fantasy world reflected this as well,” says Tanaz.

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These class differences also lead to tensions within our protagonists, Gul and Cavas. While Gul is a magus, Cavas resides in the tenements serving his sick father — inconspicuously, until his destiny collides with that of Gul. Years ago, Gul’s star-shaped mark led the King to murder her parents as he suspected her to be the prophesied Star Warrior who would bring his downfall. Ever since then, Gul had been in hiding. Then one day, rebel women from The Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, believing her to be the same Star Warrior. They train her in summoning her magical (yet temperamental) powers. These powers had long been suppressed inside her, always ostracizing her as a failure. Her character develops in the company of The Sisters, bringing her vengeful purpose into focus and her powers into control.

Hunted By The Sky: How Tanaz Bhathena gives YA Fantasy a Desi Twist
The Book Wardrobe, Mississauga

“I used research from both the Vedic and medieval periods while writing the book,” says Tanaz. She also read a lot of historical non-fiction and looked up museum archives to research about 15th and 16th century India. This research finds its place in the names of clothes, food items, architecture and even weapons, guaranteeing every #OwnVoices reader a smile. Being one, I specially loved the departure of the badass-icon from a blondie in armor to a brunette in ghaghra-choli. Mainstream media often projects traditional attires as rather submissive, when it comes to women.

While sarees and cholis give off a more household and domestic vibe, we’re more attuned to perceive cargo shorts, gladiator armor and high-ponytails as the more ‘adventurous and badass’ kind of fashion. And I am sure, Gul would have chosen the same, had she known she would have to wage a war anytime now. But there’s no harm in toggling conditioned images in our mind, every once in a while.

Apart from Gul and Cavas, I am excited to see more of Amira, Kali, Juhi and Amar. Even though the book was a page-turner, I feel a lot still remains unsaid. For the same reason, I have high-hopes for the sequel. Now that the author has laid down the rules of the fantasy world, the readers are expecting more action and magic in the sequel.

Hunted By The Sky: How Tanaz Bhathena gives YA Fantasy a Desi Twist
Rising Like A Storm, Tanaz Bhathena

Tanaz Bhathena was born in Mumbai and raised in Riyadh, Jeddah and Toronto. She is also a two-time nominee of the White Pine Award by the Ontario Library Association. Hunted By The Sky was named the CBC Best Book of 2020. Its sequel Rising Like A Storm is set to release this year in June. To know more about her, visit her official website HERE.

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