Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an own-voices Latinx Gothic horror book about a young woman named Noemí in the 1950s who ends up travelling to the Mexican countryside after receiving a frenzied letter from her cousin, Catalina, who has been newly wedded into an English family.  The fashionable young debutante packs her things and leaves at once. Upon arriving to High Place, the Doyle family’s shadowy estate, Noemí’s curiosity gets the best of her and she starts working to uncover the family’s darkest secrets, hoping to save her cousin before the doom and bloom of the house can overwhelm them all.

Gothic horror is a much-underappreciated category of fiction, so to witness a culturally rich Latinx addition to the genre was absolutely thrilling. Mexican Gothic not only lived up to every expectation that I had, but it also surpassed them by a marvellous margin. Ms Moreno-Garcia has crafted a tale that is positively sublime in its execution and a spectacular addition to the genre.

The novel has every ingredient needed for a perfect Gothic  horror tale. It is outstandingly atmospheric with an insidiously slow-rise of tension and terror. The romanticism is mesmerizingly interwoven with the discomforting and oft-times jaw-dropping elements of death and mayhem. Then there is the large, age-old house that seems to have its very own spirit, screaming out in anguish. There was not a single part of Mexican Gothic that I did not devour with eager anticipation.

The best part of the story is how the author threads facets of terror with the abhorrence of Western colonialism of a foreign land. The self-righteous nature of white supremacy paves a foundation for said racial entitlement via the grotesque act of eugenics, racism, and even colourism. Together this toxic brew slowly usurps the rich Latinx culture and the lands that belonged to the Mexican people. As Noemí uncovers the history of what happened in the establishment of High Place, all I could feel was disgust, outrage, and sorrow, especially when one considers how similar events are still happening across the globe in the present era.

The tale takes its time in depicting the manipulation that the Mexican people fall victim to, causing them to experience mass dementia and hysteria via a plague-like assault. It is breathtakingly dark and discomforting, taking some of my favourite tropes of the genre and giving them a magnificently original twist.

When we take a step back and look at the Doyle family, the owners of High Place, a sense of mixed feelings start to arise. Every single person with the exception of one young man are utterly unlikable and monstrously disturbing. It captures the reader in a bubble of claustrophobic solitude as we watch Noemí trying to unravel the secrets hidden away in High Place. In many ways, Noemí’s struggles reminded me of Crimson Peak, another Gothic tale made by a Latinx creator. No matter how much we want to believe she has found a resolution or even a potential ally, what she has really found is more questions and ghastly truths to turn the stomach.

“The house had metamorphosed in the dream, but it was not a thing of meat and sinew on this occasion. She walked upon a carpet of moss, the flowers and vines crept up the walls, and long, thin stacks of mushrooms glowed a pale yellow, lightening up the ceiling and floor. It was as if the forest had tiptoed into the house in the middle of the night and left a part of itself inside.”

I never expected to be as surprised by the twists with such intensity. There was a moment where my jaw fell completely open because I most decidedly did not anticipate what was to come. To be shocked so thoroughly was wonderfully exhilarating. It was wickedly disturbing and another perfect complement to the Gothic horror genre.

If there is anything that I feel readers shall find fault with, it is the pacing. The book takes a gradual tempo with its progressions, carefully unwrapping each titbit of a twist in a methodical way. However, that is the beauty and core essence of Gothic horror.   It is made for slow-burn, spine-tingling storytelling experiences in order to create the most cerebral and uneasy journey possible. The genre is made to push us outside of our limits of safe and comfort thinking and the best way to accomplish that is via a subtle and sinister narrative delivery. While I respect that it may not be everyone’s cup of chai, I only ask that readers keep that in mind when going into any work of Gothic horror, not just Mexican Gothic.

All in all, Mexican Gothic was a remarkably chilling, eerie, and  devious novel that I am so happy I picked up. Noemí is a tenacious, feisty, intelligent, and strongminded woman whose determination and love of family makes it impossible not to root for her, particularly when the forces of nature seem just as driven to smother that spirit out of her. Between her, the outstanding ambiance and environment of High Place, the commentary on the gradual cultural murder that comes with colonialism, and that bombshell of a plot twist, Mexican Gothic should not be missed by fans of horror fiction and people who enjoy a circumspect creepy mystery.

Publication Date: 30-June-2020
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Latinx Literature, Gothic Horror, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 336
Content Warnings: Body horror. Eugenics. Racism. Colourism. Sexual Assault. Gaslighting. Mention of suicide. Miscarriage. Death of a baby. Cannibalism. Gore. Mass Death. Incest.
GoodReads: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev Marchis an own-voices Indian (Parsee) historical crime mystery novel that revolves around a biracial man named Jim Agnihotri who is recuperating in a hospital after his time in the Afghan War where he learns about the unfortunate demise of two women in Bombay. Upon reading the newspapers, which have touted the deaths as suicide, Agnihotri feels that there is something strange going on and that there is much more to the case than appears to the naked eye. Freshly motivated by the deductive prowess of one Sherlock Holmes, Agnihotri decides to investigate the case on his own.

Murder in Old Bombay is an excellently written piece of historical fiction that is both transportive and insightful about an era that is rarely seen within the genre, the British occupation of India during the late 1800s. Coupled with the portrayal of a biracial identity and a curious crime mystery, readers shall have a pleasantly engaging reading experience, more so if they fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s dynamic detective duo, Sherlock Holmes and James Watson, from which the story derives heavy inspiration.

My favourite aspect of the novel is the main character, Jim Agnihotri himself. Because he has two racial backgrounds—British and Indian—he feels quite a bit of a disconnect from both identities, like a wanderer just on the cusp of a border, able to see and hear the culture without ever feeling like he belongs to either one. This is something that we see mirrored in the interactions that Jim has with others, and an element that also works as a subtle form of allegory for the delicate political strife in India at the time (1892). Lastly, it makes it easier to empathise and connect with Jim on a personal level, humanising him in a manner that makes the reader want to keep reading.

When Jim meets Adi, the man who is related to the two women that died, their bond is almost instant. Adi can see the sincerity in Jim’s desire of wanting to uncover the truth for the sake of it rather than taking the periodical’s story at face value and it makes Adi confide in the soldier. Their bond eventually starts to feel like the beginnings of a found family dynamic, which I positively adored.

The investigation itself ends up  being far more complex than I expected it to be and it was fun trying to connect the clues before they were revealed on page. It also takes us into the heart of Bombay where we see how people born of multi-ethnicities are treated, spurned and subjugated to ostracism that illustrates the rift between the British colonists and their Indian commonwealth. Since the book takes place only a decade prior to the Partition of Bengal in 1907, which was preceded by an intense political struggle of socialist reforms, the socio-political ambiance of Bombay is quite anxious and stiff. Jim’s use of disguises also work to depict the many faces and circumstances of the people of India, which was a neat way of sharing the atmosphere of the time period.   

The writing was very impressive! One of the things the author accomplished fairly well is the mannerisms, etiquette, and social exchanges of the 1890s. Most of the time, I felt as if I were standing beside the characters as they conversed, or watching a marvellous film where everything was portrayed with careful authenticity. The ability to write so instinctively for a period that is over 130 years in the past can be challenging, but Ms March makes it feel beautifully effortless.

If there is anything that may be a narrative repellent to some readers it is that the context of British India’s conflicts can feel somewhat detached from the mystery plotline as a whole. While I appreciate its inclusion as it creates a fully enthralling sense of environment that is transportive,  it does cause the story to feel a bit drawn out. Another element that could be somewhat frustrating are the constant references to Holmes and Watson, highlighting their influences with a strong on-the-nose aura. Folx who are unfamiliar with Sherlock Holmes may appreciate the allusions more than those who are already quite well-versed in the Holmes’ tales. My hope is that these references shall dimmish in the forthcoming sequel and as the series goes on.

Overall, I really enjoyed Murder in Old Bombay. It was a superbly written debut that shows the author’s natural talent at writing for the historical fiction genre. The suspense and air of mystery held fast, and the characters did not fall flat or fall to one-dimensional blunders. I highly recommend this to readers of the historical fiction genre, as well as to individuals who find pleasure in mysteries akin to the works of Agatha Christie and Sir Conan Arthur Doyle, but far more diverse!

Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Minotaur Books.

Publication Date: 10-November-2020
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Indian Literature, Historical Fiction, Crime Mystery
Page Count: 400
Content Warnings: Mention of suicide. Mention of wartime violence. Racism. Colonialism. Murder.
GoodReads: Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

NaNoWriMo Diaries #4: The Final Word Count + Important Writing Lessons I’ve Learned During the Month

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just about finished and I must say that while I was not able to meet my fifty thousand word count total, I did learn many lessons about the way that I like to write, what tends to hold me back in writing, and the overall writing process in general. For me, that means that NaNoWriMo was quite an insightful success and I am wholehearted grateful that I took an opportunity at giving this event an attempt. Today I wanted to briefly discuss how my journey with crafting a fantasy manuscript has fared thus far, and what lessons I shall carry with me as I move forward in my authorial pursuits.

When I began NaNoWriMo, I was extremely motivated and marvellously inspired to complete at least fifty thousand words in an Indian-iTaukei inspired fantasy narrative. The first seven days consisted of regular writing and meeting daily word goals. With the arrival of the second week, I began discovering a comfortable balance between life’s priorities and personal time for working on the manuscript. However, by the arrival of the third week, I fell behind due to a seasonal cold and then struggled with finding my way back to the track. I shall openly confess that initially I felt rather discouraged by my lacking ability to write. It did not matter to me that I was sick and needed to take care of my physical health first. Somewhere along the line, I mentally convinced myself I was a failure, which was complete hogwash.

…we should not allow those strong negative feelings to become their very own monstrous mould of barriers in our path forward.

This was where I learned my first lesson: life happens. If I did not get sick, any number of other obstacles could have risen up to stop me in my writing pursuits, or at the very least, cause a significant setback with them. It is virtually impossible to prepare for every potential hindrance that life tosses one’s way. Yes, it can be extremely unmotivating and demoralising, and it is more than okay to feel the frustrations that comes with them. Nevertheless, we should not allow those strong negative feelings to become their very own monstrous mould of barriers in our path forward.  

Once I was over my cold, I calculated that one and a half weeks were remaining in NaNoWriMo, which meant that I had plenty of time to formulate a plan of action and catch-up, or at the very least find my way to fifty thousand words by the end of November 30th. This is where I would learn a couple of more lessons about my own writing methods, such as self-imposed deadlines being horrendously dangerous for my creative processes, a one month restriction is harmful for my ADHD, and if there is no fun to be had, then there is no inspiration to draw from.

Professional deadlines do not bother me or impact my ability to get my work done. Since they are a natural part of life (e.g.: deadlines for work projects and goals, or deadlines for completing homework in a timely manner for school and university), I have grown familiar and relaxed with working with and around these sorts of deadlines. But if the deadlines that I have to meet are self-imposed, I have a far more challenging time with being able to meet them. My theory is that by giving myself a deadline, it is much easier to keep changing it and pushing it back as much as I want or need to if I find that I cannot meet them. There is no real risk or consequence of not meeting my own deadlines—aside from self-deprecating thoughts and feelings—and that prevents me from taking them seriously. NaNoWriMo is a community-based event, however, everyone must hold themselves accountable for meeting the deadline and there is never a real effect to the cause of failing.

My solution for this problem (one that is currently being tested out) is to have someone else hold me accountable and to create a reward/consequence system that gives me a genuine feeling of pressure to make those deadlines feel more authentic and realistic. My brain is very much wired to think in these terms, thus I needed to formulate a way to adapt to its unique understanding. Insha’Allah, this method will prove fruitful in some ways.

Discovering the intricacies of how my ADHD impacts my writing was quite a frustrating experience during NaNoWriMo, but it was also an incredibly vital lesson that needed to be learned and understood.

I have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), which means that my brain is prone to highly abnormal hyperactive bouts of impulsive behaviour. What this means in terms of writing is that by continuously working on a single project for extended periods of time, I can get severely restless and agitated. The need to switch activities and do something else becomes extremely compulsive, akin to having an incredibly persistent itch in the centre of your brain. The problem with a one-month restriction with writing is that it requires very long writing sessions in order to be plausible (for me). When my ADHD is triggered, I have a relentless resistance towards doing the same activity again for at least a full day. Discovering the intricacies of how my ADHD impacts my writing was quite a frustrating experience during NaNoWriMo, but it was also an incredibly vital lesson that needed to be learned and understood. It helped me to better comprehend my limitations so that I can accommodate them moving forward.

Lastly, if I am not having fun, then what is the point to what I am doing? Writing has always, first and foremost, been a passionate hobby of mine. As I grew and got older, it slowly blossomed from a hobby into my dream career. Even though I want to make writing my profession, if it starts to feel like a dreaded chore—such as washing a towering stack of dirty dishes or having to give my cats a bath—then the passion dissipates. If the passion dissipates, so does my ability to tap into the deepest creative recesses of my imagination, which is a primary facet of professional creative writing. With NaNoWriMo, I became so obsessed with meeting the numbers that I had lost sight of my story and what I wanted to accomplish with the narrative that I was pouring my heart and soul into. When a manuscript goes from focusing on sharing a magical (or twisted) tale into a pile of papers that concentrates on numbers and outside forces (will this appeal to an agent or publisher versus will this appeal to my idea and vision), it can lose a lot of the charm that drives it into creation. For me, having fun and feeling passionate about whatever I am creating is one of the most important aspects of being a writer and I never want to experience its loss again.

As you can see, NaNoWriMo 2020 was quite an adventurous creative campaign for me. There are many fascinating bits of wisdom and observations that were accumulated that I feel shall only me to grow as a writer and to further hone my skills at storytelling. I am bummed that I was not able to meet the word count, as my total number came to approximately twenty-five thousand (although I did forget to update this on the NaNoWriMo website), however, I also began a short story collection during this time and I finished eighty-five percent of a poetry manuscript. So, while my fantasy manuscript still has plenty of work left on it, I also began a couple of other wonderful projects that I am genuinely excited for and look forward to sharing with the world one day. Plus, I know these two projects shall definitely be finished before 2021 hits the clocks. All in all, my NaNoWriMo was a thrilling success in numerous ways and I am so happy I partook in this event!

NaNoWriMo Diaries #1: First Time Participating + Writing Goals
NaNoWriMo Diaries #2: Balancing Life with Writing + Daily Goal Progress
NaNoWriMo Diaries #3: Taking a Break & Falling Behind

Caturday Reads: Indian Crime Mystery & Chinese Urban Fantasy

Good morning, bibliophiles! This past week has been rather uneventful for me aside from falling into a deep reading rut. Luckily, I was able to read small titbits at a time throughout the week, but I do miss being able to sit down and binge page after page after page. After dealing with this lack of reading frustration for approximately six to seven days, I finally went ahead and meditated to clear my mind of everything that was bogging me down. Alhamdulillah, that seemed to have done the trick (at least based off this morning’s reading session, which lasted a full forty minutes!).

Not wanting to waste a single second of these newfound reading energies, I decided to pick up a few books to check out over the next couple days and possibly into the upcoming week. One of them is an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of one of my most-anticipated historical crime mysteries of 2020, while the other one is a Chinese urban fantasy novel that has been on my to-be-read list for the better part of two and a half years! One of my favourite BookTubers is running a group readalong for the title, so I figured it is an excellent excuse to finally stick my nose into it. Lastly, I shall be hoping to finish a young adult Chinese historical novel that I began on Wednesday and thus far, I have been adoring every single bit of it. My heart and soul belong to the main character completely and I cannot wait to see where this incredible story shall take her.

Check out all of these titles below in more detail. Respective GoodReads pages shall be linked via the titles, so if you see something interesting, please visit the page and consider adding the books to your own TBR lists. 😊

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: This is an own-voices Chinese historical novel set in Shanghai and is a beautifully imaginative re-telling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Some of you may recognise this from last week’s Caturday Reads, where I talked about this being my most-anticipated read for the second half of 2020 due it being inspired by one of my favourite Shakespearean titles. I’m approximately fifty or so pages into this, and I love it with my whole heart. Juliette is such a fierce and phenomenal character whom I am crushing on with every ounce of energy I have. I suppose that means that I am most-definitely a part of the Scarlet Gang (so far). I look forward to finishing it up this weekend.

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March: An own-voices Parsee historical fiction crime novel that takes place in Bombay during the British occupation of India in 1892, it follows a man named Jim Agnihotri who has recently returned from the Afghan War. While recuperating, he reads about a terrible tragedy involving two women in the local papers, convinced that not all is as it may seem. He visits the grieving family and offers his services of helping them to uncover the truth of what happened to these ladies, spurred on by the readings of his favourite sleuth, Sherlock Holmes.

An Indian Sherlockian mystery sounded positively magnificent, so when this title finally became available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to request it. I am approximately fifteen percent of the way through this novel, and so far, it is excellently written. The prose style, interchanges between the characters, and the descriptions of the settings have transported me back into time, which is an element of well-done historical fiction that I love the most. The author seems to be quite a natural at writing for this genre, which is really impressive considering this is a debut novel!

Jade City by Fonda Lee: This own-voices Chinese urban fantasy book is the first in a series and involves intergenerational blood feuds, intensely savage politics, magic, and kung-fu. Beyond the basics, I have tried to avoid reading any and all synopses for the most part as I believe it shall make the experience of reading it all the more rewarding and exciting. I have heard it being described as a Chinese Godfather-esque type narrative, which just makes it sound even more enthralling.

Honourable mentions: Along with those novels, I shall be reading through a couple of manga serials. The first is Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto. This is a shōnen, martial arts, action-adventure series that is outrageously popular. Since I am watching the anime series Naruto Shippūden, I thought it would be neat to read the manga alongside watching the show. The last volume I read was Volume 40 and my goal is to read Volumes 41 and 42. The second manga series I shall be reading through is Horimiya by HERO, which is another shōnen title. It’s a slice-of-life romantic comedy series about two unlikely individuals who formulate a friendship that evolves into something more as they get to know each other better. I have read the first volume of this and it is one of the most adorable RomCom manga I have read in years. I look forward to reading the next two volumes and watching the slow-burn progression of the main characters’ rapport.

Since there shall be a lot of people out and about due to Black Friday shopping, I plan on spending all of my time safely tucked away in the coarse pages of these books as well as the fluffy, warm blankets of my bed where I shall be safe from the spread of the pandemic. The only thing that could make the weekend even better is a cup of steamy potato chowder and the cuddling company of my feline masters. Speaking of which, I shall wrap-up today’s Caturday’s Reads with a hilariously meme-tastic portrait of my old man, Azizi, yawning a hello.

When the enemies-to-lovers idiots finally kiss after fighting nonstop for the first two books.

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

“…if wishes were wings, all the world would fly.”

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee is an own-voices Korean, own-voices LGBTQIA+ adult science-fiction novel following a person named Gyen Jebi who has a passion for painting. When they find themselves jobless and desperate, they are recruited by the Ministry of Armour to paint mystical symbols that animate the occupying government’s soldiers. But when Jebi learns of the government’s horrifying crimes, they know that they can no longer stay out of the politics. Instead, they become determined to steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton in order to stand up and fight.

Phoenix Extravagant is an exceptional piece of science-fiction that is beautifully complex yet approachable and fascinatingly original. It is one of the best novels released within the genre in all of 2020.

As a fellow nonbinary person, the representation provided via Gyen Jebi was absolutely amazing, along with the representations of other Queer identities and relationships. It is such a natural part of the social structure and environment that it evoked a strong sense of emotional reactions from me, mostly of deep gratitude and respect. Being able to read about characters with the same gender identity as myself partaking in such a fierce element of social justice was positively breath-taking.

The setting is a fantasy-steeped Korea, known as Hwaguk, which is under the strict occupation of what can be construed as the Japanese Empire, or Razanei. The descriptions of being oppressed and forced to forsake one’s entire cultural identity for that of the same people who violently usurped one’s homeland is vicious and incredibly multi-layered. This is further enhanced by the rift between those individuals who seek to make peace with their new realities and the people who continue to fight for their freedom. The depiction of the political situation being a literal manner of survival is brilliantly depicted via the diverging populaces and the political ramifications that impact them.

I found the commentary and tension of the world-building to be especially relevant to today’s socio-political upheaval, making it feel far more personal and intimate than I could have imagined. Combined with the fantastically sophisticated and inventive writing style, the reader is pulled into an immersive and suspense-fuelled ride of dexterous characters and the highly daedal perspectives of war and how it is not as black and white as it appears to be on the surface.

My favourite creative elements in Phoenix Extravagant were the dragon and the magic system. It was such a beautifully unique experience to see how independent the automaton dragon was. It was entertaining yet enlightening and even a bit cerebral. Combining that with painting being used as a grammar for the magic system, Phoenix Extravagant brilliantly implements fantasy-laced, steampunk-style aesthetics into the atmosphere that one cannot help but be astounded by.

If there is anything that I could complain about, it is only that I wish it were slightly longer in terms of historical context. The political foundation for the narrative is so thought-provoking and interesting to me that I would adore a secondary book that goes into more details. I would consume it ravenously.

All in all, Phoenix Extravagant is a superb work of genre fiction that I highly recommend to readers that enjoy a combination of steampunk sci-fi and inventive fantasy elements set against a Korean socio-cultural backdrop. Bibliophiles that like intelligently written adult fiction shall also find a lot to adore here.

Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Solaris.

Publication Date: 20-October-2020
Publisher: Solaris
Genre: Korean Literature, Science-Fiction
Page Count: 416 pages
Content Warning(s): 
Interrogation torture (on page). Attempted violence against a cat. Mass Death. Bombing. Intense representation of oppression and forced assimilation.
GoodReads: Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Caturday Reads: Chinese Historical Fiction & Taiwanese-American YA Contemporary Romance

Weekends are typically for self-care and moments of relaxation. It is about kicking your feet up and finding a way to unwind from the busy week. However, some folx do not have the luxury or privilege of being able to partake in resting shenanigans. Rather, their Saturdays and Sundays are jam-packed with projects and hours of grinding for the moolah. This is usually my standard method of activity during the weekend, so I can empathise wholeheartedly.

Since I shall be very neck-deep in writing projects, as well as some other beta reading plans, I thought it would be fun to start a small segment here on The Djinn Reader where I share some cute—and oft times very silly—pictures of my beloved feline family members, while listing off my weekend reading plans. The goal is to spread a few smiles and offer a space where friends can come and take a small break from whatever their busy weekends entail. I have come to appreciate the positive impacts of stopping in my tracks for five minutes just to take a breath and look at things that make me smile. It tends to help me tackle the remainder of my day with determination and a sprinkle of comfort.

With that being said, welcome to Caturday Reads!

Aside from work-related ventures, my hope is to start reading one of my most-anticipated books for the second half of 2020, as well as another book that has been on my TBR radar since its release in October 2019! Both of them sound like a wonderful balance of intense and dark, along with light-hearted and romantic; elements that shall keep me greatly entertained during my break-times!

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong: An #OwnVoices Chinese historical fiction retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, this breath-taking debut novel takes place in 1920s Shanghai where a blood feud between the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers runs the streets, leaving the city in the grips of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper that has assumed the role of proud heir to the Scarlet Gang, and Roma Montagov, who happens to be the White Flowers heir apparent, as well as Juliette’s first love… and first betrayal.

I have been hearing the most incredible things about These Violent Delights, which has simultaneously made me nervous about picking it up, as well as gleefully enthused. It also helps that the novel is an East Asian retelling of one of my Shakespearean favourites. I suppose once all is said and done, the biggest question to answer is which side shall I choose? The Scarlet Gang or the White Flowers?

Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao: An #OwnVoices Taiwanese-American young adult contemporary novel about an outcast teenager who gets swept away in a romantic whirlwind while concurrently falling down a deep hole of dark family secrets after another Taiwanese family moves into her small, pre-dominantly White midwestern town. The story is loosely inspired by the 19th century Chinese folktale, The Butterfly Lovers.

Ms Chao’s debut novel, American Panda, was such an exceptional book. When I first read it, I was completely awed by how much it made me laugh as well as cry. It was one of the very first novels that represented a lot of the same challenges that I faced living in a conservative Asian household where my dreams conflicted with that of my family’s desires, even though I am not Taiwanese (Indian-Fijian). The similarities were both shocking yet comforting to me. For the first time, I saw my childhood as being a shared experience and that helped me to make peace with many parts of it. (My full review of American Panda can be found on my sibling blog, BiblioNyan.)

Given those experiences, Ms Chao’s second novel would of course become a must-read necessity for me. The only reason that it has taken me so long to pick it up is because I wanted to ensure that I was in a proper mood for the contemporary genre so as not to form any unfair negative associations to it. It took a long time, but I am marvellously ready to dive right in with very high hopes!

Those two shall be my bookish companions for the weekend. Whatever I do not finish, I shall continue onwards with into the upcoming week. Please let me know what books you plan on reading over the next few days! Do you have any favourite titles that you have finished recently? I would love to hear from you.

With that, I shall leave you to your Saturdays with this super comfy looking kitty named Kheb! He is the light of my heart and the ultimate source of joy in my life, even if he does snore like an old lorry.  Until next weekend, happy Caturday!

I present, a boat!

The Deep by Alma Katsu

“He is buoyant—of another dimension, one that does not experience the friction of the world in the same way she does. His fingers dart around the edges of a cigarette he twirls in his hand, and all she can think is ease. She has never felt that. She is more like the cigarette itself, passed from hand to mouth to earth, sucked dry and then forgotten.”

The Deep by Alma Katsu is a historical supernatural mystery novel about a young woman named Annie who survived the sinking of the Titanic, only to find herself working aboard another ship, the Britannica, years later. While working on the second ship, she is reminded of her time on the infamous maiden voyage of the Britannica’s predecessor; memories that are further heightened when she bumps into a familiar face.

Historical fiction stories that alternate between two time periods are my favourites due to the amount of depth that they add to the story. Being able to decipher connections from both eras is engrossingly fascinating. Couple that with my passionate infatuation with the Titanic as well as ghosts, then the compulsion to read said story becomes practically irresistible, more so when they are as excellently written as The Deep.

The best part of the novel is how fastidiously the tale is crafted with an adroit storytelling style that combines the nostalgia of historical fiction with an enigmatically eerie atmosphere of a ghostly mystery. The author utilises strange touches of spiritualism and superstition to create an environment that is marvellously creepy and claustrophobic.

The glorious writing is further accentuated by the extensively researched material that is used to share a tale based off a real-life tragedy. The artful examination of the varying class systems on the Titanic and how those systems dictated the “worth” of those who survived versus those who perished goes to show us that in terms of caste hierarchies not much has changed over the last century. This subtle exposé was a minute detail in the overarching narrative that I appreciated.

A couple of elements that may be a bit off-putting to fellow readers include the hefty cast of characters who mostly have seemingly miniscule roles in the grand scheme. Even so, each character does contribute to the plot as a whole, like pieces of a mosaic that are pieced together to finish a much larger puzzle.

Another aspect that shall be hit-or-miss with some folx include the gradual progression of events. A big chunk of The Deep is built upon dialogue exchanges and inner monologues to stimulate the different senses in order to immerse the reader completely into the pages. The slower pace works to increase the tension in a soft and unexpected manner. However, it also makes it challenging at times to stay completely focused on what is unfolding. I enjoyed the apprehension and anxiety that cultivates towards the climax as it felt more impactful due to the nature of the gentler tempo, which can be the key to a great mystery experience.

Overall, The Deep was a wonderful historical fiction novel with an interesting spectral twist I did not expect. The settings are impeccably dreary with writing that is tight and meticulous. I highly recommend this to fans who enjoy the nostalgia of the historical fiction genre, as well as readers that delight in soft ghost stories.

Publication Date: 10-March-2020
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Historical Fiction, Supernatural Fiction, Mystery
Page Count: 420 pages
Content Warning(s):
Psychological institutionalism. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (near drowning). Drowning (on page). Wartime injuries (moderate descriptions, on page). Suicide ideation. Suicide attempt. Death of a child (on page). Consensual sex (on page).
GoodReads: The Deep by Alma Katsu

Islam & the Daevabad Trilogy: 3 Vital Lessons on the Meaning of Faith – A Discussion

One of the reasons that I love reading so much is how much it teaches me. Poetry helps me to better empathise with other people’s pain and hardships. Literary fiction in all its forms gives me glimpses into an array of cultures, socio-political experiences, and multitudes of identities that make up the construct of individualism. Science-fiction helps me to better comprehend our current place in the world and the plethora of potential for our growth as an intelligent, technologically obsessed race. Then there is fantasy, a genre that pushes the confines of comfort zones to show us the dynamic differences in our idealism, political preferences, and even the various ways that communities partake in religion or choose to forsake it entirely. Out of the myriad of reasons that I adore The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty, this is the element that I appreciate the most: the lessons on what faith means on a deeply personal level.

My personal relationship with Islam has always been quite complex, especially during my younger years from mid-adolescence to my late twenties. As a child I was incredibly fascinated by the notion of a greater power who had created the vast world around me. I attended Sunday school and received lessons on the history of how Islam became established and the correct way to practise salat or namaz, and how every choice I made would eventually impact my ability to get into Paradise after I died. With childlike curiosity comes the need to ask questions and that is when I started to feel a humongous disconnect from my faith and my family’s faith.

Because I was never allowed to properly learn and understand the true essence of religion, I became completely disenfranchised by it; not only from Islam, but from all organised religions.

Growing up, asking questions—particularly as a biological female—was viewed as a means of leaving the religion and venturing into hypocritical territory, or becoming a munafiq. Rather than viewing these inquiries as an attempt at deepening my relationship with Islam, and thus Allah (SWT), they were received with fear and astonishment. Because I was never allowed to properly learn and understand the true essence of religion, I became completely disenfranchised by it; not only from Islam, but from all organised religions.

Religion can be a profoundly intimidating entity. There is this terrible anxiety of doing it wrong, of messing up the rituals or falling so far out of its confines that regardless of having a good heart and spirit, a person becomes mortified of going to Hell—or some variation thereof—in the afterlife. The rigid black and white dynamics that are presented to us as children can have a significant impact on how we come to perceive the very concept of faith and a Higher Being, as well as how we shall live as our futures progress. In my case, I did not feel that I could embrace an omniscient, omnipresent entity if the simple act of acquiring knowledge was viewed as a grave sin. As a rather inquisitive child and teenager, it felt completely illogical and immoral to me to go to Hell for wanting to build a more profound connection with said Great Entity.

About five to six years ago, when I reached the darkest and lowest point in my life due to severe trauma, I needed hope. I needed to believe that there was something more to life than the turmoil that I was undergoing. A friend that I had met—whom I had shared many philosophical debates with in regard to religion (she was a Pentecostal Christian Pastor) and how I struggled with accepting Islam—suggested that I should look into Islam again as an adult. After explaining to her what my childhood was like and why I was sceptical about doing research on it, she kept urging me to give it a try. Now that I was an adult, my situation was vastly different, and I also had resources available to me now that I did not have as a child, as per the arguments she made.

My ignorance was a slap to the face, leaving me feeling enraged and deeply saddened, yet surprisingly inspired.

During this period, I was also learning about the We Need Diverse Books® movement and getting more involved in the literary world as a book reviewer. This work led me to interacting with Muslim members of the bibliophile community who guided me a bit with my research. They gave me suggestions on books that focused solely on feminism in Islam and how fundamental aspects of the faith respect women rather than oppress them; how asking questions is actually encouraged—something that I did not even believe existed or could exist as these two words (feminism and Islam) never seemed like they could go hand-in-hand. My ignorance was a slap to the face, leaving me feeling enraged and deeply saddened, yet surprisingly inspired. I spent the better part of two years extensively studying Islam from the lens of intersectionality; it is something that I still do passionately to this day, and something I suspect I will keep doing until my demise. The point is that this excursion drastically changed my life and helped me build that connection with Islam that I always yearned for yet felt was completely beyond my reach due to who I was.

I provide this backstory, this context as it were, so that I may talk about how The Daevabad Trilogy has taught me three extremely fundamental lessons on what it means to be a person of faith. Regardless of one’s religion, although I use Islam here because that is my personal faith, there are three unique guidelines to always keep in mind when practising. They have helped me to become more open-minded and self-aware about my place within my religion and how it does not have to be a shackle of oppression. Instead it can be the key to finding and embracing my own sense of individualism.

Lessons #1: No Religion is Perfect

Saying this statement out loud feels like it is a simple statement of common sense. However, there is nothing common or simple about it. No religion is perfect.

No matter how much we want it to be, or how much we believe them to be, they are not infallible.  The core precepts of every faith may have at one time or another been a doctrine of flawlessness, most likely when they first came into existence. However, since religion is passed from human to human over the limitlessness of time and space, and humans are decidedly flawed, thus religion can never be perfect.

In the books, we watch as Ghassan uses faith to control and oppress the people of Daevabad. Those who practise a separate religion than him are constantly beaten down and persecuted in a brutal fashion, while likewise practitioners are given rights and privileges that many do not even deserve (i.e.: criminals). Even so, there are boundaries that come with said freedoms.

The basic foundations of both faiths are vehemently against these acts, yet somehow they have been weaponised in support of the very acts they condemn.

Similarly in real life, more often than not, especially in the modern era, religion is wielded like a sword to uphold varying political agendas. People who hold great positions of power utilise religion as a tool to maintain absolute authority rather than to use it as a source of compassion, understanding, acceptance, and to be non-judgemental. In America, Christianity is used to villainise non-Christians, LGTBQIA+ communities, and to remove reproductive rights. In many Southwest Asian countries, Islam is used for extremist propaganda and the severe oppression non-male communities. The basic foundations of both faiths are vehemently against these acts, yet somehow they have been weaponised in support of the very acts they condemn.

I do not believe that any religion should be viewed and accepted with blind faith, more so when it stems from wilful ignorance. It is much more important to understand why the established rules and principles are there as it pertains to a specific religion, and what it means to you as a person is truly how it is meant to be perceived or regarded.

When Alizayd finally stated to question the lessons he learned as a child and how it impacts the people of Daevabad, and people he cared deeply for such as Nahri, he started to realise what was truly right and what was wrong. Everything he believed was a sin turned out to be nothing more than the musings of a tyrant who sought absolute power over people he feared. Ali grew as a person while developing a deeper connection to his faith and garnering respect for his willingness to accept, learn, and acknowledge that things are not always as they seem.

Lesson #2: It is Okay to Ask Questions About What You Are Taught

This brings me to the second lesson learned: asking questions is more than okay and more often than not, it is extremely necessary!

Because no religion is perfect and everyone has their own intimate understanding of faith, it is supremely crucial to ask questions about things that we do not understand or feel uncertain or anxious about. Asking questions also helps to craft a more spiritually richer connection with one’s faith, which can then positively influence us in other avenues of our life. Being curious is not a crime or a symbol of choosing disenfranchisement.

Being curious is not a crime or a symbol of choosing disenfranchisement.

When I perform namaz now, my heart feels calmer and more connected with the act. There is no overwhelming confusion or tension that makes me feel like I am doing something incorrectly. I no longer feel like an imposter. The experience is rather meditative and has become a gigantic act of self-care that I look forward to throughout my day. This is my own personal experience, of course, and I never would have developed this relationship if I never asked questions.

Darayavahoush and Alizayd are great examples from the book series that exemplify this. In the events that take place in the third book, Dara comes to realise that what he was taught and told did not sync with the actions and behaviours that surrounded him. He began to ask questions and see a whole new side of the war that he was right in the middle of; he saw the shades of grey within the obtusely harsh blacks and whites that moulded the core of his beliefs. His questions led to him wanting to pursue a different path, one that was filled with compassion and a desire for justice.

As I mentioned above, Alizayd starts to understand that everything he was taught was founded on lies and then he ventures forth to uncover what is true and what is not. In the aftermath of acquiring the knowledge he sought, he was able to grow into the best version of himself. One who was far more open-minded and empathetic; someone more willing to admit to his wrongs and to learn from them.

Lesson #3: Religion Does Not Have to Suppress Individualism!

This brings me to my last lesson learned: religions do no need to stifle or suppress our desires to be unique and individualistic within our communities, or even within ourselves. I fought this battle my entire life because I was taught from a young age that being religious meant that I had to live by a particular cookie-cutter mould of what it meant to be Muslim. Being a trans Nonbinary Queer Muslim who enjoys body piercings and being an unattached cat human was never a possibility in my future from my childhood gaze. Even the simple act of choosing to wear a hijab was frowned upon in my household as the perception was that wearing a hijab meant I was being subjugated, and it would also diminish opportunities for me in my future; opportunities my immigrant parents worked very hard to attain and make possible.  

Individualism is what helps a religion to thrive. It nourishes the very foundations of faith to help it blossom and evolve with its people over spans of time and space

Individualism is what helps a religion to thrive. It nourishes the very foundations of faith to help it blossom and evolve with its people over spans of time and space, while also allowing a diverse myriad of folx to visualise and experience perspectives of faith—and the meaning of faith—that they may have never even contemplated. For me, it was discovering the existence of intersectional feminism within a religion that was only every used to suppress me as a child, more so where conservative gender roles were concerned.

Dara uses his knowledge and ultimate freedom to carve out a life for himself that gave him meaning beyond the fetters of torturous slavery and mass murder. He sought redemption by bringing peace and value to his people, while also learning to build a reflection of himself that was not tainted by the opinions and shards of others around him. Alizayd uses his newfound knowledge and experiences to bring about an era of peace and co-existence among groups of people who have only always known blood and death, thus finding a path for himself that was unique to his own beliefs and independence rather than what was expected of him by others.

Final Thoughts:

Religion is complicated. Choosing to be religious or partaking in any faith-based belief system can be incredibly complicated. Choosing to not believe in anything at all can also be equally complicated. There is rarely a right or wrong answer when it comes to these things because of how profoundly intimate and candid they are to a specific person. Learning to see the multi-dimensional aspects of a single faith was something I always understood logically in the back of my mind, and was a project that I was working to comprehend on a much more intricate level, and being able to read The Daevabad Trilogy helped me on this journey in outstanding ways.

Seeing the various shades of grey and even the various colours that paint the everyday lives of communities from across the globe, how their unique ethnic cultures or experiences growing up have helped to shape that connection they have with a higher being is remarkable to me. It is something that should be respected, even if they differ from what is familiar and right to you. The Daevabad Trilogy has shown me that it is not our place to cast judgements and to act so volatilely upon these passionate perceptions. Our job is to harbour compassion and understanding with an open-mind. Everything else is between an individual and their maker(s).

The point of this discussion is not to convert visitors to be more religious or to force people into accepting that their choice to not associate with religion is wrong. My goals are quite contrary. My first goal was to celebrate an aspect of one of my favourite fantasy book serials that made it such a compulsory read within the fantasy genre for me as a bibliophile. The second was to show people that no matter where they are on the spectrum of believing or not believing, there is no right or wrong way to do it, to live. The best way is what feels comfortable, safe, and square within a person. No one else matters. Their opinions should not define your own individuality. Life is short and the greatest way to make the most of it is to put faith in yourself and follow the path that feels right to you, maybe with a smidgen of compassion and unbiases.

The City of Brass Book Review
The Kingdom of Copper Book Review
The Empire of Gold Book Review

6 Amazing Authors that Encourage Me to Never Give Up on My Ambitions

Authors are incredible folx. They spin stories full of splendour and wonder with a simple set of twenty-six letters (or more or less given their preferred writing tongues). These tales can inspire us and motivate us to pursue our own dreams. They can instil within us a sense of fulfilment within our identities. It can help us reconnect with our roots and cultures, or even take us on mesmerising adventures to different universes where we can experience the magnificent spectrum of diversity in ways we never imagined.

Today, as a way of celebrating these glorious talents, I wanted to spotlight some of my favourite writers. They are individuals who have always helped me to find positivity in the midst of seemingly unending hopelessness. Through their works and their actions they have helped me to confront my own insecurities and fears with regard to writing, thus encouraging me to keep fighting in the passionate pursuit of my own hopes and dreams—authorial and otherwise. Each one is a person whom I respect and admire greatly with every ounce of my heart and soul.  

Sandhya Menon – My appreciation for Ms Menon runs quite deep as she is the person who introduced me to my pleasure for the contemporary romance genre. Prior to reading her works (From Twinkle, With Love and Make Up Break Up), contemporary romance was something that I could barley stand to enjoy. The warm-hearted interaction between two nigh perfect individuals as they develop feelings for one another in a sugary-sweet manner felt incredibly unrealistic (which is silly considering how much I adore fantasy and science-fiction, the wilder the better). Yet, her novels have shown me that everyone has their own set of imperfections and infallibilities, and these are truly what help to establish bonds between folx. Reading about two people that feel utterly incompatible via their differences finding common ground that then builds into a lovely foundation of respect and affection is positively uplifting.

Another reason I admire Ms Menon so much is her candid musings on her writing processes via Instagram. She was one of the first authors that I ever started following and I adored her stories on how she keeps track of her word counts during writing sessions, how she breaks down sessions so they are not overwhelming and daunting, and the importance of self-care during periods of tight deadlines. Her anecdotes are always wonderfully heartful, sincere, and pragmatic.

S.K. Ali – Ms Ali is one of my two favourite Muslima authors out there. Her debut novel, Saint and Misfits, allowed me to see myself within the pages of a book for the very first time in twenty-eight years of living (at the time). The protagonist is self-assured, hijab-wearing teenager who struggled to balance her culture, faith, and family with her friendships and avocations. Those struggles were never demonised or portrayed as being anything beyond a normal part of growing up, and it took my breath away while utterly changing my life as a fellow Muslim individual with similar personal conflicts. It shall forever hold a very special place for me in my bibliophilic spirit.

Then I read Ms Ali’s Love from A to Z, which is an Islamic YA contemporary romance, and she did it again, this time with the character Adam. I picked up that book when I was undergoing treatments for a congenital illness. The story made me confront my fears of living with chronic illness as well as the terrifying notion of how it would impact my loved ones to see me in so much pain, or to eventually succumb to my illnesses. Love from A to Z brought me comfort and solace in such a profound way that I shall never be able to truly express it in words alone. But after reading this book, I began to see Ms Ali’s works as a blessing from Allah (SWT), finding their way to me whenever I began to lose my sense of hope in the world, and for that I shall always respect and appreciate this author.

Nafiza Azad – Ever since I was a child, I have been writing. I began with poetry and then in my adolescence I graduated to full stories. My preferred style of expressing tales is via vivid, descriptive words that can transport a reader into the very depths of the settings that are being expressed. Flowery, lyrical prose styles are absolutely my cup of chai. Even so, I was always afraid that readers would not prefer such wordy tales. Then I read Ms Azad’s The Candle and the Flame, and I was mind-blown. It was one of the most beautiful books that I ever read, with such marvellous cultural vibrance and sweeping atmospheres and awe-inspiring magic. The author’s way of crafting a world with multi-dimensional characters and plights that one cannot help but get so provocatively invested in—it is positively exquisite. Her way of writing fantasy is precisely what I always crave from the genre, regardless of target audience, as both a reader and a writer.  

Beyond her storytelling prowess, I also greatly admire Ms Azad for the emotion and dedication she puts into everything she crafts, where she is writing books or doing arts and crafts or supporting fellow creators. She has such a kind and compassionate heart, and fiercely independent will to succeed that I find her to be stunningly motivating. Additionally, she has impeccable taste in food.

Clarissa Goenawan – One of my dreams as a writer has always been to write a story akin to Japanese literature, as it is my favourite literary genre in existence. Yet, whenever I came across books written by people who are not Japanese, they have been terribly appropriative or rudely fetishized. Yet, Ms Goenawan’s works have been nothing short of outstanding and I appreciate the respect and care that she puts into creating her stories. Her love for Japanese culture and literature shine in the flowing, eloquent manner in which she weaves her tales. Through Ms Goenawan’s works (Rainbirds and The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida), I see that the potential to write outside of one’s own cultural identity is quite possible. One just has to be willing to be patient, considerate, and mindful of the cultures that they are representing.

Another reason that I respect Ms Goenawan so much is because she cares for the world and the people in it. Her enthusiasm for raising awareness for people with mental illnesses and the importance of social justice subjects is brilliantly uplifting, making me want to work hard at being a much better person, bit by bit, day by day.

Hafsah Faizal – The one thing that I am sure everyone can agree on is how much privilege there is to unload within the publishing industry. It seems that a person has to either be rich or white or Christian or highly educated to get a foot in the door. It can be daunting and incredibly discouraging, especially when someone does not meet those specified criteria. One of the things that I admire the most about Ms Faizal is what she represents within this cutthroat industry. She is a proud niqabi Muslima who does not have a college education. Even so, she wrote one of the best written young adult fantasy novels to come out of 2019, We Hunt the Flame, and by doing so, has shown those of who have felt inadequate that we do not have to play peon to privilege.

Due to my personal experiences in trauma, I was never able to complete a college education. Because of this fact, there is a large part of me that feels maybe I am not qualified to become an author, or much of anything else.  Yet, reading Ms Faizal’s inspiring posts on Instagram about her own journey with publishing and how just because someone else needed a degree to accomplish their dreams, does not necessarily mean that everyone does, gave me a magnificent sense of hope and faith.  Her powerful words of wisdom and comfort and encouragement not only help me to keep writing every single day, but they also me overcome other obstacles that life tosses into my path as well. Her fortitude is brilliantly remarkable.

Ken Liu – When I was younger, while I dreamt of publishing books, I also wished to become a translator. My goal was to translate books from Japanese into English and Hindi.  Mr Liu is one of the most hardworking authors around and what he has accomplished for Chinese literature is absolutely incredible. Because of his diligence and  passion, many phenomenal works of Chinese speculative fiction have English translations making them more globally accessible. For example, due to Mr Liu’s Chinese science-fiction anthologies (he was the editor for the following collections Invisible Planets and Broken Stars), I came across writers like Chen Qiufan and Cixin Liu, who changed the way that I perceived the science-fiction genre, and what it can accomplish outside of the confines of mere storytelling.

I admire how meticulous he has been in the field of Chinese speculative literature in translation, as well as his own narrative prowess. Mr Liu’s own epic fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty, is one of the finest works of adult epic fantasy that I have read to date, and it is one of the biggest sources of motivation for me with regard to writing my own culturally rich adult fantasy serials.  Mr Liu shows me every day that there is nothing a diligent mind and a fervent spirit cannot accomplish.

Those are just a handful of authors that inspire me to be the best version of myself every single day, whether I am trying to put together a book or pursuing other professional undertakings or even merely trying to survive in this unpredictable adventure known as Life. I would like to take a moment and thank Neelam from The Tsundoku Chronicles for writing about the authors that she admires, as it inspired me to put together my very own list.

Who are some individuals that you look up to? People who help encourage you to keep moving forward through the black clouds of uncertainty, especially during the chaotic era of 2020?

The Empire of Gold (The Daevabad Trilogy #3) by S.A. Chakraborty

“How much of his life, all their lives and their histories, unravelled the more it was examined? The stories he’d grown up on were just that—stories, with more complicated roots and vastly different interpretations than he could possibly have imagined. It was unsettling, the world and truth he knew getting constantly shaken  up.”

Please note: There may be spoilers in this review for The Empire of Gold. Please read at your own discretion. Thank you.

The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty is the third and final instalment in the author’s epic adult own-voices Islamic fantasy series. The highly-anticipated conclusion follows Nahri, Alizayd al-Qahtani, and Darayavahoush e-Afshin as they must confront the consequences of their choices across the span of the first two volumes, all leading to a highly action-packed finale.

The Empire of Gold left behind a plethora of emotions, most of which can be attributed to the various shades of turmoil that is expected when a highly-anticipated novel becomes the biggest disappointment of the year. The hopes and expectations that I harboured going into the pages of this epic finale were built upon an incredible foundation of passion and awe. One half of me is overwhelmed with affection for the characters, specifically my two favourite individuals, and everything they underwent across the trilogy. Yet, the other half witnessed the potential for an exquisitely crafted finale fall so unfortunately short that I had to question whether it was even authored by the same person.

There are two main aspects to The Empire of Gold that were utterly brilliant. Firstly, there is the multi-layered character development of an anti-hero war criminal seeking redemption who epitomises the struggle between wanting to do what is right and wanting to do what is necessary for a populace, and the weaknesses that those two desires generate. Secondly, the writing continues to be jaw-droppingly meticulous and methodical in its creation of a world teeming with magic along with the consequences and devastating impacts that having such power (and losing it) can have on an entire world. Then there are the laundry list of shortcomings that cause The Empire of Gold to feel like an entirely separate project that is wholly removed from the Daevabad series, the key elements of which include a unbearably forced romance, the addition of fresh lore and more world-building that completely clashed with the pre-established universe, tightly knit political tension that unravelled horridly due to poor planning, and unnecessary character perspectives.

The most riveting parts of The Empire of Gold were comprised of Darayavahoush’s chapters. They consisted of some of the best writing that I have seen across all three volumes of the series. He feels the results of the choices that he made—along with the choices that were agonisingly thrust upon him—in such an evocatively heart-breaking manner that it is impossible not to ache with him. His thoughts, his reactions, his desire to stand up against his oppressors and partake in seeking justice and peace on behalf of the people—even if that meant aligning with individuals of whom he detested—was mesmerising. These chapters are the ones that I devoured hungrily and swiftly.

‘From a country that’s been fought over by foreigners for centuries. We die, and we bleed, and it’s a debt the powerful never repay.’

Another bit that I felt was a fascinating element to the third instalment was the journey that Nahri takes with Alizayd. Due to the events that wrapped up The Kingdom of Copper, the duo find themselves on the run, in a manner of speaking. The dualities of her trek with Ali versus the one she took with Dara worked to truly emphasise the differences in her relationships with both men, including the variations of chemistry. Nahri’s chemistry with Darayavahoush is fierce and passionate. It is blazingly romantic yet toe-curlingly deep. Her love for him is breath-takingly natural and complex. Her relationship with Ali is the complete opposite. She has a deep-rooted affection for him that is steeped in a sense of respect and admiration that she has never really felt for another person before. Their connection is caring and well developed on the intricacies of consistent and constant exchanges of intimate information, and it is wholesomely platonic.

This brings me to my first shortcoming: there is no passion between her and Ali, particularly from her side; not even an ounce of romantic adoration. The two different quests she takes with these men further cement this fact into existence. When the undercurrents of their relationship start to shift later on in the book, I felt my heart sink with dread and frustration. I never expected her to end up with Dara, especially given the nature of the political upheaval that Daevabad is drenched in, keeping their individual paths apart. However, I also never expected her to end up with anyone. Nahri is a strong and independent character that had so much going for her and for her to be thrust into a forced romantic affiliation made my whole heart tighten with outrage. I also did not understand the choice to have her become involved with all three male characters in the series. Given her intensely independent and cautious nature, it did not sit well with me or make sense within the confines of her character build.

Another character who was dastardly out-of-place was Alizayd himself. He annoyed me to no avail in the first book due to his self-righteous beliefs and closemindedness. Nevertheless, I also respected him for having such a profound sense of self and the spark of curiosity that he showed when he recognised that maybe everything he had been taught was not the truth from the mouth of God, but rather a political ploy to keep him in check. It led to brilliant development and emotional growth in The Kingdom of Copper, to the point where my admiration for him and his desire to help people via listening rather than violence skyrocketed. Yet, all of that hard work and individualistic progress was lit on fire and burned to the ground in The Empire of Gold as Ali’s entire personality revolved around his grief for losing a family member with whom he did not have a profound bond with and a woman he knows he should not pursue. His morals and obstinate belief in his faith would have prevented him for engaging with Nahri in the ways that he did. Whatever inner conflicts that he had regarding these actions were also outrageously flippant and extremely out-of-character. Almost every chapter that Ali had was a formulaic monologue of grief and lust, or some variation therein. Replacing Ali’s chapters with more perspectives from either Muntadhir or Jameshid would have given the novel a completer and more fleshed out flow. It also would have added layers of dimension that the book desperately needed.

The last bit of disappointment—yet by far not the least— in The Empire of Gold came in the form of developing the marid connections that were briefly touched upon in the first two books. The entire chunk of lore was ridiculously convoluted. While I can envision the thought processes of how this brick of a section helped move the story along, particularly with regard to its contribution to the final battle, it once again creates a humongous chasm between all the groundwork laid out for the climax in the first two books and this one, tossing that compelling intrigue completely out the door. Ultimately, these were the scenes that built a gigantic wall of discord between me and the world of Daevabad, instilling a sense of reading an entirely separate story from an entirely isolated series.

Overall, The Empire of Gold was the most disheartening book that I have read all year. I fell in love with The City of Brass and The Kingdom of Copper, and as such, I had been anticipating this book like a little kid waiting for Eid mithai. Nonetheless, all I received in the end was a gargantuan pile of conflicting character builds, an overabundance of disconnected world-building, a jaw-droppingly weak and essentially pointless villain, and a supremely anti-climactic series climax. Even though I am immensely heart-broken by this third instalment, I still highly recommend the first two novels in the series because they truly are some of the best fantasy books to come out of the genre in years.

The City of Brass Review
The Kingdom of Copper Review

Publication Date: 11-June-2020
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Islamic Literature, Epic Fantasy (Adult)
Page Count: 766
GoodReads: The Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty