Hunted by the Sky has excited me since the first time I saw the fierce cover in all its desi glory. Every book cover that features BIPOC or queer models or illustration makes me cry with joy but this one was so <i>perfect</i> and unexpected because not many fantasy books, especially YA, adorn BIPOC representation—though, that’s changing so yay! When I finally got the chance to read an early copy of this, I jumped with excitement. Oh, and I ended up buddy reading it with Lili from Utopia State of Mind which was totally fun. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for a guest post by Tanaz Bhathena in a few days!
REVIEW OF ARU SHAH AND THE TREE OF WISHES BY ROSHANI CHOKSHI
Title: Hunted by the Sky
Author: Tanaz Bhathena
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Date of Publish: June 23, 2020
Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.
Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl–Gul–in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance–and discovers a magic he never expected to find.
Hunted by the Sky is a fantasy set in a world inspired by medieval India where a revengeful young girl finds herself right beneath the claws of royalty while a young boy struggling to survive finds a destiny for himself; all amidst the classism stemmed from magical abilities and lack thereof, bashing societal standards, and a romance reluctantly blossoming.
Representation: Indian & Persian mythology; ancient Indian setting; desi culture; sapphic side character.
Ownvoices reader for: Desi & Indian.
Trigger Warnings: murdered parents, chronically ill parent, sexual slavery, classism, discrimination, name-calling, animal cruelty, anxiety around hidden identity, blood, and violence.
PROPHECY OF THE CHOSEN ONE NEVER GETS OLD AND DESTINY ALWAYS BRINGS THEM TOGETHER.
A large part of this story is based on an age-old prophecy that promises a girl with the star-shaped birthmark would overthrow the tyrannical ruler of this world. It forms the foundation for the journey that Gul starts on and everything that gradually unfolds. The birthmark she adorns is a secret she holds close, both because it reminds her of the dreadful fate she has lived through and because it’s an easy signal to call for death at the hands of the King.
Destiny and fate are prominent ideas that compel the two main characters, and even the side characters, to live their purpose—which, at first, is all about Gul avenging her parents’ murder by sliding a dagger into the King’s heart and Cavas looking after his sick father while surviving in the tenements.
SVAPNALOK IS REALISTICALLY FLAWED, YET BEAUTIFULLY CULTURAL AND DIVERSE.
The ‘world of dreams’ or Svapnalok, is divided into four kingdoms: Ambar, Prithvi, Jwala, and Samudra—easily inspired by the four elements of nature: sky, earth, fire, and water. World-building is one of the strongest aspects of this book as it not only creates hills and deserts or fortresses and castles, but also gives authentic attires and vernacular to actually step into the story.
There are mentions of outfits like a sari pallu, and ghagra and choli; words like prasad, samarpan and salutations like didi or greetings like shubhsaver, and foods like kachoris, which are bound to make the ownvoices readers happy and for the non-ownvoices readers to understand this world in more depth. Different sexual identities in this world is normalized and while classism is an issue, the story is refreshing for gender equality.
There’s abundant diversity depicted through different skin colors and religious beliefs. Everyone’s faith or atheism is held at the same bar—some pray to the Sky Goddess, some to Sant Javer, some to Prophet Zaal, and some to no one. Though, the world highly discriminates between those who show magical abilities (magi) and those who don’t (non-magi) by separating the latter through gates and restricting them to live only in the unclean, not-equipped-with-all-facilities tenements set up outside the kingdom.
A SUDDEN KISS SPARKS INTEREST AND THESE OPPOSITE POLES ATTRACT EACH OTHER AGAINST ALL ODDS.
Gul and Cavas meet on the day of an annual festival which is celebrated all the more for young people finding their one true love—their neela chand, literal translation of ‘blue moon’ which prefers to one’s mate. Yes. So romantic. Even more since this first scene of them together involves pick-pocketing, public accusation, nervousness, and swooping in for a kiss. Now that’s a start to a romance that does go through a lot of ups and downs later on in the book.
STRONG AND FIERCE FEMALES NEED A SEPARATE APPLAUSE.
Not only is the main protagonist, Gul, a determined and hardened young girl who is set on seeking revenge, but even the side characters are rooted in their ideologies. Three women—mysteriously famous as The Sisterhood of the Golden Lotus—wish for the torturous king to be admonished and thrown off too. A lot of weapon and magic yielding by these ambitious women is worth appreciating.
THE MAGIC SYSTEM MIGHT BE CLEARER IN THE SEQUEL AND THE PACING DISAPPOINTS.
Different types of magical abilities are presented in this story, like death magic & whispering, but there’s quite some confusion as to what the essence of all magic is. While the start is surprisingly slow, the story picks up its speed towards the end and wraps up on a high note that is bound to make you anticipate the sequel. Quite a few sequences are convenient but when something seems a little too predictable, the plot pleasantly surprises with each passing event.
Make sure you pick up this fantasy debut by Tanaz Bathena; it’ll introduce you to something refreshingly new yet nostalgic for ownvoices readers.
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