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.

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The Trouble with TBRs & Finding Balance: A Small Discussion + November’s Planned Reads

One of the bookish goals that I have for 2021 is to create miniature monthly To-Be-Read (TBR) lists in order to give myself some discipline with reading books that I have owned for an extended period of time.  Like many fellow bibliophiles, I have a strong tendency to purchase stacks of books when I am feeling extremely stressed out or when I desperately need to indulge in a bit of self-care, usually when nothing else has worked. While it is a fantastic way to build up a gargantuan library, it can leave a person feeling wholeheartedly guilty when they go unread, catching layers upon layers of dust on those blood-red bookshelves.

In the past, I have tried to create TBRs, to no avail. I am someone who reads based on my mood in that moment. My cravings for thrillers and fantasy and literary works, to name a few, can shift from day-to-day, or even from hour-to-hour if my ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is restless. The last time that I attempted sticking to a full-sized TBR (approximately six to seven books) was at the beginning of 2020. In the end, I became intimidated by own list and abandoned the stack entirely.

As someone who lives with at-times severe OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), not being able to stick to a list such as this made very little sense to me and worked to further exasperate my frustrations. Especially with having ADHD, creating and abiding by lists for daily activities and work tasks helps my brain to feel less untidy and prone to anxiety. When I mentioned this to my therapist, they suggested that maybe my lists are too ambitious. Their suggestion was trying to find a balance that could accommodate my impulsive reading moods while also providing me with a small semblance of the discipline that I craved.

Honestly speaking, I felt a bit sceptical about the idea. Maybe that is due to my poor experiences with TBRs in general, or it can be chocked up to the somewhat apathetic pessimist that resides deep within my heart. Either way, after giving it much more thought, I realised by trying out their suggestion, I was not really losing anything. There would be no damage, at least not more than the normal feelings of disappointment that comes with not finishing a task. If it did work out, then not only would I be pleasantly surprised, but I would have found a solution to a very large bookish annoyance.

So, for November, I have crafted a miniature TBR pile to experiment with my therapist’s suggestion and see how it fares. There are only three titles in this stack since the end-of-year holidays tend to be the months where my reading moods are the most fidgety. If this ends up turning into a success, I can experiment with increasing the number of books slowly in future months.

I stuck to one overarching genre—fantasy—in order to keep things simple. The only real variety are the reading levels (middle-grade and adult) and the cultural backgrounds with which these tales were crafted. Check out the list below. Clicking their titles shall transport you to their respective GoodReads pages.

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta: An own-voices Indian middle-grade fantasy novel that revolves around a young girl named Kiranmala. On the morning of her twelfth birthday, her parents mysteriously vanish and a rakkhosh demon slams into her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. She realises that her parents may have been telling the truth when they told her she was an Indian princess from a different dimension. When two princes arrive to rescue her, Kiran finds herself swept into a magical interdimensional adventure, where she must solve riddles and battle demons in order to rescue her parents and save the world. This is the first book in a series called Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond.

This book has been on my overall TBR for a long time and after reading through The Daevabad Trilogy, I am craving more fantasy that is near-and-dear to my cultural roots, no matter what audiences they are for. The Serpent’s Secret seemed like a fabulous place to begin!

The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao: An own-voices Chinese middle-grade fantasy adventure about twelve-year-old Faryn Liu, who is the member of the Jade Society. Faryn dreams of honouring her family and the gods by becoming a warrior, but the Society has shunned Faryn and her brother Alex, forcing them to train in secret. One day while running an errand, Faryn tumbles into a battle with a demon—and defeats it. If she can prove her worth and find an island with immortals before the Lunar New Year, Faryn may have a chance at becoming the powerful warrior she’s always dreamt of being. This is the first book in a series called The Dragon Warrior.

I really like stories about people who are shunned or exiled and must find a way back to whatever community(ies) that exiled them, only to discover how fantastic they are without the blessing of said community(ies). That is one of the biggest appeals about The Dragon Warrior for me. Plus, I think it’s awesome that the story takes place in San Francisco, which is fairly close to where I live! Lastly, the author is such a cool human and I really want to support her work.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang: An own-voices Chinese adult epic historical fantasy title that everyone on every social media platform that I engage with cannot seem to stop loving. The hype surrounding this is one of the main reasons that I have hesitated in picking it up. However, given how much I have been craving incredible fantasy narratives as of late, I decided to add it to my November stack. I know the third instalment in the series is releasing either later this month or in December, so if I end up loving it, I shan’t have to wait long to wrap it up (I also own the second novel, The Dragon Republic).

I did not include a synopsis here as I prefer to go into this book with as little information as possible. But if you would like to check it out, please click its title to visit the GoodReads page.

I shall keep my fingers crossed that this works out well! How about you? Do you find sticking to planned reading lists to be challenging? Do you have any tricks or tips that help you stay dedicated?

Until next time, happy reading.

Seven by Farzana Doctor

Seven by Farzana Doctor is an #OwnVoices Indian fiction literature novel about a woman named Sharifa who travels to India with her husband with the hopes of learning more about her great-great-grandfather who was an immensely successful businessman and a philanthropist. During her research, however, instead of discovering a tale of rags-to-riches, Sharifa learns that her grandfather had four wives, all of whom had been omitted from the family’s lore. As she becomes more and more engrossed in the enigma surrounding these women, Sharifa also becomes entangled in a powerful familial debate regarding khatna—an age-old ritual of female genital cutting, one that shall force her to face her own reality and choose a side.

One of the most intriguing characteristics about Seven is the subject matter of female genital cutting (FGC) as it is one that I have never seen discussed in literature before. My own personal knowledge of this ritual is extremely limited and for all intents and purposes, it has always been a topic that has existed within my own cultural circles, but one that is never openly discussed. While I was curious to learn more about FGC, I was wary of the sensitivity with which it would be broached in the book. Ms Doctor not only discusses this vital issue with accessibility and evocativeness, she also does so with great care and consideration, which is what truly makes Seven such an incredible title.

The writing style is simple and rather straight-forward, making it easy to get utterly consumed within the pages, more so when the emotions surrounding the subject matter are portrayed with authenticity and thoughtfulness. Each side of the debate is given attention and respect, and provides an insightful, educative, and captivating reading experience. The tone while discussing the roots of these rituals and why some family members still believe in the practise is never spiteful or accusatory, which is an incredibly challenging feat given the nature of this matter. Her exposition is careful and considerate from beginning to end, even when it leans a bit more towards one side versus the other.

The superb use of emotions to illustrate the tensions within Sharifa’s family as they discuss this practise draws the reader further into the complexities of olden traditional Indian culture that most would consider to be highly outdated. There are layers of complexities that go beyond simple right and wrong that create a plethora of reactions and responses as the story unfolds, making the book practically impossible to put down.

The focus on FGC plays parallel to some of the other issues that Sharifa is battling in Seven and that helps to formulate an even more elaborate narrative filled with multi-dimensional themes on gender roles (particularly where sex is concerned), self-acceptance, the intricacies of cultural identity, marriage, female relationships, and much more. Sharifa’s husband, Murtuza, was a pleasant surprise whilst reading. He was a compassionate and understanding man who always valued his wife’s thoughts and feelings, highlighting an equity in their marriage that is rarely depicted in books showcasing more culturally inflexible gender-centric functions in South Asian communities, especially with respect to her inner turmoil regarding her sexuality and mental fortitude.

While Seven is not an easy book to read, it is vastly important, and I highly recommend it to readers that are searching for a unique story with fallibly relatable characters. With writing that is supported via excellent research, a respectful approach to an intensely delicate subject matter, a sensitive exhibition of sex and romance amid rigid Indian traditions and gender roles, and beautifully sincere use of emotions, there is very little within these pages that shall disappoint.

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

The Best Books of 2020 Part 1 – January to June

This year has been a strange reading year for me. I have either been finding excellent books one right after another or ending up on the receiving end of a streak of one-star disappointments. Most of this can be accredited to stress and discomfort with processing through the constant flow of uncertainty that 2020 has been igniting and reigniting time and time again. The rest can be blamed on my rather finicky reading moods that seem to change with the quick shift of the wind.

If there is anything particularly positive about my reading habits for 2020 thus far, it would have to be how consistently I have been engaging with diverse own-voices books, as well as how wonderfully I have been staying loyal to my goal of reading more nonfiction titles this year.

Since the midway point has come and almost gone, I wanted to share my favourite books from the year with you. Each one of these has either brought me a great sense of joy or insight or was just a marvellous feat of creativity and I wanted to bring more attention and adoration their way. Normally, I like to do a humongous wrap-up of the best books across twelve months during the final week of December, however, this year I wanted to break them into two segments so that the lists are a bit less daunting and exhaustive. It also works as an experiment to see which way jams better with my overall comfort zone.  

For each listed book, I have included the genre, links to their GoodReads pages via the title, and any relative reviews that I may have written for it. Please note that if there is a review, some of them may be on my sibling blog, BiblioNyan.


When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur: An own-voices Canadian-Punjabi poetry collection with wonderful prose and poems that discuss the diasporic experience, battling sexism and racism within own cultural communities, being fetishized and sexualised by White people and how that impacts self-identity, and so much more. The collection really resonated with me as a brown-skinned South Asian who has (and continues to) deal with all these things to one degree or another in my life. The portions that hit the closest to my heart were the writings that explored what being Othered by one’s own cultural community feels like because one does not fit the mould of how they perceive that individual should be as a South Asian gender-specific person. I highly recommend this to readers who enjoy poetry, specifically intersectional-focused work.


Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: This collection of short stories written by the superbly brilliant Roxane Gay is indescribably powerfully. Originally read in celebration of Black History Month, the anthology is filled with stories about womxn who take back their own narrative, oft times by partaking in difficult living situations in order to survive, while also knocking back their oppressors and abusers (both figuratively and literally) to stand tall and proud, with a sprinkle of various experiences in between the two extremes. It exemplifies the diversity of womxn, indicating that womxn’s experiences do not equate to a monolithic gender identity. Recommended for readers of short stories and nonfiction intersectional feminist essays.


Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire: An adult portal fantasy novel that is the fifth instalment in the Wayward Children series. It is by far my favourite volume thus far as it has incredible representation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is a condition that I have. My personal experience with OCD pertains to the need to stay extremely clean and hygienic at all times. If I am unable to do so, then I quite literally feel like I shall lose my ability to function normally. An example of how I cope is how I wear gloves whenever I leave my house, similarly to the main character of this specific title. The novel portrays the difficulties of living with extreme OCD in an accurate manner without being hurtful or disrespectful, which I wholeheartedly respected and appreciated. For some, this level of OCD may appear to be unrealistic, however, as an individual who lives quite comparably to the character in the novel, I can assure you that it is very real and authentic. Additionally, the story deals with abusive relationships and how validating abusers is the only way to survive in some situations, which was also written with sincerity. I recommend this to readers of fantasy, especially portal fantasies, who appreciate accurate mental health/illness representations.


The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty: An own-voices Islamic epic fantasy book, and the first instalment in The Daevabad Trilogy, this title is an exceptional example of methodically crafted, cultural-rich, politically charged fantasy storytelling at its absolute finest. The depiction of morally grey characters and how vast the shades of faith can be, even within a particular creed, were remarkably written. The world-building and all-encompassing atmospheric exhibition of the setting of Daevabad is breathtaking in both scope and execution. One of the finest first instalments in a series that I have ever read. I highly recommend this to readers of adult fantasy who have a keen interest in political intrigue, amazing action, and multi-dimensional characters. My full spoiler-free review.


The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty: The sequel to the above title, this novel takes everything that The City of Brass did swellingly and contributes to the storyline and character plights by focusing on specialised character development and growth, tightening the suspense as it relates to the political machinations, and elaborating on complex themes of individuality, subjugation, abuse, and much more. By far the best sequel novel in a series that I have ever read. My full spoiler-free review.


Japanese Fashion Cultures: Dress & Gender in Contemporary Japan by Masafumi Monden: This is an own-voices Japanese nonfiction book that examines fashion trends in Japan as it specifically relates to mxn’s fashion. Some of the topics of interest include, but are not limited to, fashion as a form of gender identity and surpassing the binary, the evolution of mxn’s interest in fashion styles in Japan, and the projected future of the fashion industry as it relates to masculine identities. It is marvellously written, with in-depth research and a plenitude of information, as well as additional resources for further reading. The book manages to avoid being intensely dense, which was a welcome reprieve considering the subject matter. Highly recommended for readers who have an interest in multi-cultural fashion industries and surveys of gender identity in Japan.


Kawaii: Japan’s Culture of Cute by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson: Another own-voices Japanese nonfiction novel, this one is a brightly coloured, glossy-paged reference guide to Kawaii culture in Japan. The book offers in-depth yet accessibly succinct chunks of the origins of kawaii culture, its historical influences and evolution, a list of the major artistic creators and influencers of the concept of cute within Japanese society, and how it became a world-wide phenomenon. There are interviews with manga creators as well as specialists and historians within the field that make this book highly informative and vastly fascinating. The beautiful design and presentation along with the layman’s vernacular make the title a must read for all Japanophiles, especially for ones interested in modern kawaii culture (i.e.: anime, Lolita fashion, maid cafés, etc.).

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The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar:  An own-voices Islamic, own-voices Syrian American story about a girl named Nour who moves back to Syria with her mum and sisters shortly after her father’s passing. Before she has the time to fully acclimate to her new surroundings, her town is bombed, forcing her family to flee across numerous borders in order to fight for their very existence. It is magnificently compelling and emotionally riveting. The story is not an easy one to digest as it portrays the harsh reality of loss in multiple layers and dynamics, with the loss of home, loss of loved ones, loss of individuality, and even loss of faith, but that is also what makes it one of the most important books out there. My full spoiler-free review.


Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto: An own-voices Japanese fiction novel that is considered to be a revolutionary work in modern Japanese literature, it follows a young woman who moves in with her grandmother’s friend upon the grandmother’s passing. Whilst living there, the young womxn harnesses the healing powers of cooking and friendship to grieve and find a way to move forward amid life’s unpredictability. Even though the novel has its sad moments, it is ultimately a story of inspiration and hope, making it perfect for anyone that needs a little of both in their lives. Highly recommended for folx that like to read contemporary literary fiction or are interested in Japanese literature but are not quite sure where to begin.

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Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender: An own-voices Caribbean, own-voices Queer story for middle-grade readers about a young girl that is faced with feelings of abandonment, and the people who lie to protect her. Callender’s prose and exploration of complex feelings with regard to the uncertainty that follows the loss of a parent, even at such a young age, is powerfully insightful and stunningly evocative. It showcases how children are not the only ones that have to grow up and oft times it is because of their sincere perspective on life that so many adults finally figure it out for themselves. Recommended to readers that like middle-grade books, books with Queer romances, and books that explore the more hurtful aspects and complexities of cultural-specific communities. A full review for this title shall be on the blog shortly.

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Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu:  An own-voices Sri Lankan and Tamil, own-voices Queer adult literature novel about a womxn named Lucky. She is a lesbian that married her gay friend from college so they could maintain their personal Queer dating excursions safely hidden from the judgemental gazes of their conservative Tamil parents. However, when Lucky is invited home to attend her childhood friend’s wedding, emotions start to run high as she questions what she wants from her life and future. This was such an excellent novel with raw, unfiltered emotion about being in an abusive relationship with a closeted individual, and how the fears and insecurities of such a person can create an extremely toxic relationship. It also examines the challenges of coming to terms with one’s identity amid strict, traditional familial environments and oppressively rigid gender-enforced rituals. It is not an easy book to read, but it is phenomenal, nonetheless. Highly recommended for readers searching for an authentic Queer literary novel centring on Sri Lankan experiences and representation. A full review for this title shall be up on the blog shortly.


This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell: This own-voices Black nonfiction book takes a look at systemic racism and oppression of BIPOC and POC through the pages of history so that we may understand what those two constructs entail, which better equips us to break them down. My favourite part of this collection is how it tackles each element with grace, centring on positive discourse. There are also activities at the end of each main section so that we can truly examine White supremacy and privilege around us in our daily interactions and environments, which further emphasises prejudice and discrimination against all BIPOC and POC individuals. I recommend this to folx interested in learning about and understanding the roots of systemic racism and those who truly wish to unravel the very pillars that maintain the status quo of oppression of marginalised peoples.

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Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali: This own-voices Islamic young adult contemporary romance book is the best book I have read in all of 2020 so far. It follows two teenagers who meet by happenstance and formulate a friendship during some of the most difficult tribulations of their life thus far. It is an immensely beautiful book about the joys of faith and the comforts of learning to be oneself, unapologetically so. It is feminist, romantic, fierce, and so wonderfully full of wisdom. Highly recommended to readers that enjoy sincere, wholesome romances, intersectional feminism, and young adult narratives. A full review for this book shall be up shortly.

That does it for my bi-annual round-up of the best reading experiences that I have had in 2020. I am eager and excited for what the next six months shall bring my way. Until next time, happy reading to you!

Not Good Enough: A Diverse Books Discussion + #MuslimShelfSpace Tour

Even though I had the comfort of reading, I was faced with the same ostracization in the stories

When I was a child, I loved books, even though they were at times painfully unkind to me as a Person of Colour. Because I had brown-skin, hair on my legs and arms and face, and a strange accent when I spoke, I never had many friends. Books were my solace from the terrible loneliness and sense of alienation that I encountered while growing up in a predominantly White elementary school and then later on in junior high school. Even though I had the comfort of reading, I was faced with the same ostracization in the stories that I devoured as I had amid the scuffed linoleum and muddied walls of my educational institutions.

The characters of nearly all the books that I adored as a child were White. They either had blonde or brown hair with blue or green eyes and relatively slender forms. They never had to worry about things like misspeaking in a foreign language and having an accent people used to cast judgements about their intelligence. They rarely had parents who showed protectiveness or concern for them, or had any presence in their lives at all really. They were almost always obsessed with sex or violence, and if religion ever came up, it was related to Christianity or Catholicism.

The only time I ever got to read about a Black character, or even a Brown character was when they were being portrayed as villains

The heroes and heroines of the grand adventures that I had loved so much were never People of Colour. The only time I ever got to read about a Black character, or even a Brown character was when they were being portrayed as villains or being horridly mistreated. They were inciting violence and hatred, and as such, had to be treated with malice and aggression, or worse. When one is a child, especially a lonely one that seeks solace and hope in the beauty of stories, it becomes natural to want to be able to find inspiration in those same stories. The hope is that one day I can be just as strong as the superheroes that I read about. I can be just as beautiful or handsome or attractive as the princes and princesses in common fairy tales. Hell, that I do not even have to fit the Binary gender roles. I wanted to dream about being an honourable and brave human capable of experiencing magic and splendour as a Brown person. A person who did not need love in their lives or any references to whether they were a boy or a girl, because in the face of adventure, gender really does not mean much. My hopes were always shattered with the pieces flung away into the wind like petty trash.

Because I never received representation of who I am, because I never got the chance to hold rough-textured pages between my fingers that housed black ink blotches of anything other than villainy and abuse, subjugation and dehumanisation, I never had any confidence that someone like me deserved to succeed. It was my belief growing up as a kid that Allah had put People of Colour on the planet to serve the White Christian masses, and it never settled well with me. Somewhere in the very back of my mind and at the bottom of my heart, I knew this was not the case. Yet, when all there is to go by is what was in front of me in the books that surrounded me, it was difficult to perceive it differently.

For the first time in my entire life, I read a story about a Brown-skinned Muslim girl

Then about three to four years ago, after I began blogging and was trying to get established on Netgalley, I was approved for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits. For the first time in my entire life, I read a story about a Brown-skinned Muslim girl who had an overprotective family that was passionate about their Islamic faith. She had struggles that were typical of the Western teenager experience, yet she never compromised who she was just to fit in. She was wonderfully Muslim. She was beautifully individualistic with amazing hobbies and interests. She was intelligent and proud of her identity and her brown skin and was steadfast in her choice to wear a hijab. While I’m not a woman, I identified with everything else in that book.

I sat down after finishing the last page and I cried into my palms for what felt like forever. I cried tears of sadness for not having something like this years ago. I cried in joy for being able to experience so many parts of myself in the thing I loved most. I cried for finally understanding that there was nothing wrong with me and that my cultural and racial differences did not make me less worthy of success or less intelligent. It was not that books had betrayed me and let me down. It was the world, and this systemised belief that if you don’t have white skin with blue or green eyes, and faith in Jesus as a god, then you were a failure and would amount to nothing. There was no room for anything other than this binary of idealised perfection. To learn how wrong and jaded that belief was, well, it was a monumental moment, to say the least.

I wish so desperately that I had Saints and Misfits, as well as other Muslim books, when I was a child or even a pre-teen. My hopes and my faith would never have gone through the blender of betrayal and disappointment that I felt from books back then. Yet, in other ways, while I can feel remorseful for what I lacked in my youth, I deeply appreciate and cherish that the youth of today shall not be deprived as such. There are Muslim kids and young adults, and even adults as well, who have stories with Muslims of all sorts, and so many different shades of humanity, to feel at one with. Tons of novels that can show them the hope and the inspiration that I had always frantically sought.

My experiences are the reasons why I shall never stop promoting and advocating for the necessity of diversity in literature

Today, I wanted to share my story of what it meant being a Queer Indian-Fijian Muslim growing up in a world where books with characters who looked or sounded or even loved like me did not exist. My experiences are the reasons why I shall never stop promoting and advocating for the necessity of diversity in literature, especially where People of Colour and Queer People of Colour are concerned. It may seem silly and unimportant for so many folx out there. However, I also know that for every one person who says diversity is pointless, there will be tens or hundreds to stand up and lay claim to how extremely vital it truly is.

No child should have to grow up feeling like they aren’t enough.  No child should have to open a book and be told that they shall never be anything other than a villain or supporting cast. They are individuals filled with potential and possibilities that shall be marvellously unique to them, and their stories and experiences are just as important, if not more so, than all the others that choose to keep them down.

“It is hope and inspiration. It is a dream come true and a dream to aspire to.”

That is exactly what my Muslim Shelf Space means to me, as both a reader and a writer, and it is why I wanted to take a moment during Ramadan this year to talk intimately about what my Muslim Shelf Space represents in this home and my heart. It is hope and inspiration. It is a dream come true and a dream to aspire to. All these books, and all the newest additions that we are blessed with and shall continue to be blessed with, and all the brilliant humans writing these narratives, are marvels that fill my life and mind and heart with so much warmth, compassion, and belief that marginalised people are not trash, but a beacon of what we can accomplish and the joy that we can shape the future with in spite of being told that we’re not enough. Because you know what? We are enough.

My Muslim Shelf Space

Authors A to F
Authors G to M
Authors M to W

The Moon in the Palace (The Empress of Bright Moon #1) by Weina Dai Randel

In truth, we were similar. Like two sides of a fan, we were at odds with each other, we competed with each other, but our fates similarly rested in the hands of the Emperor–the holder, the commander, the manipulator of our destinies.

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel is an #OwnVoices Chinese historical fiction novel that is the first in a duology chronicling the life of Empress Wu as she rose from a simple concubine to become one of the most powerful rulers in Chinese history. The story begins with a little girl named Mei who is picked to become a potential paramour for the Emperor. In the wake of her father’s demise, she is whisked away to the palace, never to see her family again. When a rare opportunity arises for her to capture the Emperor’s attention, she crafts a gift that he will never forget, setting into motion an array of events that shall ultimately steal Mei’s childhood innocence to morph her into a calculatingly intelligent and resourceful woman of the court.

This is a difficult book to review because there are so many captivating elements about it, yet it was also quite challenging for me to stay invested in Mei’s journey from beginning to end due to its extremely basic prose.

The best parts of The Moon in the Palace are with the moments of intrigue and suspense that comes with palace politics, particularly where oppressed female roles are involved. Mei learns that not everything is as she fantasised about when she was younger, and that the privilege of visiting with the Emperor is exactly that: an honour awarded to only a handful of women who have proven themselves to be memorable to him. Friendships are superficial and a means to climbing the ladder of prestige and any hint of compassions is usually tied to a thread of devastating deception. The author has a talent for building tension slowly that makes the reader want to root for Mei while protecting her from the doom that is inevitable.

I knew now: love and destiny were two wild horses that could not be curbed. They galloped in different directions and ran down different paths where streams of desire and hope would not converge. To follow one was to betray the other. To make one happy was to break the other’s heart. Yet I supposed that was part of life, a lesson we had to learn. To grow up was also to give up, and to build the future was to dissolve the past. The only thing we could do was hope for the best, to believe that the horse we chose would find us a safe destination.

Since there are so many levels to the depths that people go to for power and authority, the story becomes dark and tragic very quickly. It is also powerfully vicious and emotionally tight; all necessary ingredients for an extraordinary exposition on the internal workings of Chinese state-ship at the time. The only thing that really diminishes the quality of the narrative as a whole is the overly simplistic prose.

The tone did not fit the time period at all and came off as rather contemporary in nature. If I did not already have prior knowledge of the book’s particular era, I would be inclined to believe that this was a modern-day telling of Empress Wu’s beginnings, just without the use of technology. There was also a lack of emotion in many dialogue exchanges and interactions that Mei had with other women of the court. There were only two women who evoked any sort of emotional response or association while reading, and they were ones that had impactful roles as well, which greatly alleviated the monotonous feel of the people of the court.

Lastly, the story is incredibly drawn-out. I understand the need for meticulous use of details, and I often appreciate the tediousness that comes with the historical fiction genre. However, with The Moon in the Palace, it would have been better to use some well-placed time jumps to cover more of the lacking portions. The pacing does pick up significantly within the final one-third to one-fourth or the novel, and that was where I finally began to feel more invested with the plot and Mei’s journey. I merely wish the first 70% was not such a slog to get through. By the time I arrived at the climax, I had utterly disconnected with the all the characters and storyline.

Even so, I recommend this book to fans of Chinese historical fiction. Some readers may appreciate the graduality of the novel more than I did, and as I mentioned, there are some rather marvellous aspects to The Moon in the Palace that can be overlooked by the slower development. At the very least, the beginnings of Empress Wu’s life in this fictional telling is still quite provocative and culturally fascinating; definitely worth experiencing, especially if one is an enthusiast of cultural histories.