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the reader further into the complexities of olden traditional Indian culture that most would consider to be highly outdated.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 Name of Red by Beena Khan

“The men watched with fascination as she opened a book and bowed her head in it. It looked like she was avoiding the crowd, and she appeared to want to blend in. It was impossible though since she’d already caught the attention of her audience by simply standing out in her red dress.”

Smashwords – The Name of Red – a book by Beena Khan

The Name of Red by Beena Khan is an #OwnVoices South Asian contemporary romance about a woman known only as Red who frequents a local bar every evening where she drinks vodka and reads books. One evening an admirer begins leaving specific titles for her upon her favoured reading spot with notes tucked into the pages. Feeling intrigued  by the gesture, she reciprocates the gift-giving with responses to said notes, thus starting a curious friendship. The novel is a debut release.

There were many attributes to The Name of Red that kept me steadfastly invested in the story between Red and her mystery admirer, such as the incredible descriptive writing and the slow-burn interaction between the two individuals, however the novel’s downfall was how unpolished and repetitive the prose became.   

The strongest trait of the novel is the captivating way that the author is able to create atmosphere. It was marvellously easy to picture Red getting situated at the bar and trying to focus on her book, but then becoming wholly uncomfortable when men would gawk at her inappropriately. Another scene was when she receives her first book from the admirer and the caution that she felt along with a twist of curiosity and excitement was delightful and charming. These fantastic descriptives extend to character interactions and dialogue sequences, where details of facial expressions and emotional reactions were shared, providing the reader with a superb recognition of how everyone was reacting to one another. This tends to be a characteristic that is quite commonly overlooked in contemporaries during verbal exchanges and its presence here was immensely appreciated. Additionally, it further cements the heat of the slow-burn development of feelings between Red and her eventual love-interest, Kabir.

The second facet that makes The Name of Red so fiercely engaging is the aforementioned romance. The rapport is built on two individuals who get to know each other gradually through shared (and separate) interests and a natural inquisitiveness about one another’s past encounters and relationships. It helps create a foundation of trust and mutual respect that is splendidly genuine and empathetic. The establishment of familiarity when building a romantic relationship or even a platonic kinship is a great  portrayal of how healthy bonds are forged and something that is vastly needed more of in adult romances.

The only true downfall of The Name of Red is the unpolished nature of the overall writing style. In the first half of the book, there are tons of repetitive words and phrases that make it feel tedious and overtly accentuated, mainly when describing Red’s beauty and the impact that it has on people around her. Rather than being allowed to gauge the reactions and formulate an opinion independently, it occasionally felt like the reader was supposed to respond with or think specific things, and that can become highly grating as one gets backed into a very precise corner. This is further reinforced if one is doing a single reading session for the book.

In later chapters, the quality of the writing takes a significant downturn as well. Rather than the carefully crafted sentences that is found in the first one-third of the narrative, the prose becomes riddled with many grammatical errors and inconsistent sentence structures that detracts from a smooth reading experience. I found myself stopping every so often to re-visit certain passages and paragraphs so that I could understand them fully, which further exasperated the repetitive element of the novel, but in a completely different manner. Suffice to say that the book needed a serious hand at editing as it reads like a second draft rather than a final product.

Writing titbits aside, there was one narrative element I also did not particularly care for and that was the amount of trauma that is introduced later on. Much of the trauma felt like contrived plot devices for shock value and it places a great amount of distance between the reader and the initial investment that hooks one into the plot and character plights. The suspension of disbelief utterly evaporates in the last one-third to one-fourth of the narrative, which then impacts the storytelling quality as a whole. However, I do feel the need to admit that I am not typically a reader of romance, so regulars of the genre may find these elements far more palatable than I did.

Overall, The Name of Red was a great debut. The author has immense potential to be a superb contributor to the genre. Having such a skill for crafting immersive settings and characters that are easy to root for, I am positive that she shall only get better with each new book she releases. I look forward to seeing what her next story shall entail. I recommend The Name of Red for people who fancy diverse slow-burn romances.

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya

“With every item she tossed into the washer’s gaping mouth, she dissected every sentence she could recall saying to Neela, analysing the implications of her words and how they might have been interpreted.”

The Subtweet: A Novel: Shraya, Vivek: 9781770415256: Amazon.com: Books

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya is an #OwnVoices South Asian-Canadian contemporary novel about two uniquely separate musicians that formulate a friendship after one of them performs a cover of the other’s song and it goes viral. Their quick-formulated bond becomes a contrast of insecurities and miscommunication as the fame compounds into toxic envy. Then one moment of weakness and a startling subtweet later, careers are devastated, and friendships become utterly shattered.

The Subtweet was a novel that had a vastly unique premise and sounded unlike anything that I have ever read before, which is why I felt drawn to it. While it was extremely fast-paced and easy to consume in one sitting, by its finale I felt that the novel’s listed premise was inherently far-removed from its painfully one-dimensional execution.

Social media is the ultimate platform for networking in the modern day, however, it is also one of the swiftest ways to create havoc and chaos, particularly those built upon the recesses of miscommunication and missing facts. While I understood that this element would play a part in the conflict of The Subtweet’s story, as it does concentrate on virtually crafted camaraderie, what I did not foresee was it becoming the underlying foundation for every single ounce of harmfulness taking place in the book. Ultimately, this is one of my least favourite tropes of all-time, and I felt it became a tenuous excuse for uncertain narrative direction, more so when coupled with the thin level of critique on the subject matter and a severe lack of atmosphere.

Rukmini and Neela, the two protagonists of The Subtweet, are both incredibly unlikeable people, and one of the main reasons for this is that they are women in their thirties who behave like they are sixteen with their petty drama and consistent mistrust of one another’s loyalty to their outrageously fast-formed friendship. A handful of virtual messages and some poorly constructed face-to-face interactions later, they were best of friends, seemingly out of thin air. Not only did this feel entirely unrealistic, it also reeked of doubtful plot subtexts. If we look at them as separate individuals, then there is no development here either to assist in making them endearing, or to garner the reader’s empathy, or even sympathy, in the midst of the chaos that occurs when the hurtful subtweet goes live; a feat that astounded me given the heavy load of dialogue that takes place in the novel. They both provide monologues about the various aspects that make them feel invalidated and insecure in the friendship yet do absolutely nothing to remedy their concerns or allay their fears. This creates a stonewall of storytelling stagnation that sticks around from start to finish.

When the conflict occurs, as I mentioned earlier, it is based entirely on miscommunication. Rather than have an adult conversation to sort out the motives or anger that ultimately led to Neela’s string of hurtful words, Rukmini completely disappears from the picture, never to be heard of again. This was a terrible way to engage with a topic that is supposed to be under a critical lens and create the basis for a thought-provoking examination on the noxiousness that comes with having an online presence.

The Subtweet had a grocery list of themes that it wanted to explore. Some of these include the implications of diversity when a person of colour caters to White audiences’ fetishized perception of cultural content, or when White masses seek to wash away the nuances that separate diverse content as unique creative cultural installations; the vindictive dynamics that are prominent in female-centric friendships; critiques on how privilege plays a part in fame accumulation, especially when it steals credit away from original creators; and lastly, the harmful ways that social media can be manipulated to build overnight stardom, whether that was the desired effect or not. With so many various subjects to shine a decisive lens on, and then some, the book never touches any of it with more than a handful of lines referencing these things. Writing out a single statement admonishing a person for appeasing the White masses in lieu of cultural authenticity is not the same thing as having a crucial examination on the topic! If anything, all it does is admit a desire to do so but illustrate a complete lack of initiative to follow through.

The Subtweet was a book that was ambitious in scope, yet floundered into obscurity with the delivery, leaving behind an immensely frustrating and one-dimensional 200-pages of storytelling torpidity. One of the most fascinating novels of 2020 quickly turned into the most disappointing reading experience I have had in years. As such, I cannot recommend The Subtweet with good faith.

The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy #2) by S.A. Chakraborty

The sky shatters into smoking pieces that dissipate like dust in water as the veil comes falling down, revealing a painfully azure sky from the realm beyond. The mountains groan as dunes of golden sand rush to swallow them, their life snuffed out.”

PLEASE NOTE: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FOR THE CITY OF BRASS IN THIS REVIEW.

The Kingdom of Copper eBook by S. A Chakraborty | Rakuten Kobo

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty is the second title in her #OwnVoices Islamic fantasy series, The Daevabad Trilogy. Taking place five years after the climactic events of book one, the story focuses on the almost tangible political tension that plagues the city, and our main characters, upon Darayavhoush’s savage attack.

The Kingdom of Copper fully embraces the three facets of storytelling that I originally fell in love with via the first instalment and nurtures them into a spellbinding masterpiece. With this continuation, the world-building is further fleshed out, the characters are more refined through devastating experiences with new characters being introduced that are as equally developed as the main cast, and with scorching political intrigue to rival that of fantasy (or sci-fi) epics such as A Song of Ice and Fire or Dune.

The creation of the city of Daevabad—and the overall universe of the series—is chock full of multi-dimensional characters that evoke an array of emotional responses. It consistently maintains some of the best individuals I have ever come across in the genre.

With Nahri, we have a woman that has always been fiercely independent, but now has to bow to a tyrannical king in order to save the lives of her people while trying to find a way to wrestle away their freedom from this dehumanising oppression. With Ali, we have a royal who was betrayed and thrown out by his own family, forcing him to survive in a way that shall test everything that he as ever believed in. With Dara, we have someone who has spent centuries being nothing more than a tool and slave for power-hungry persons claiming peace with some grand, self-righteous saviour complexes. Each one of these individuals is given their own unique journey of self-discovery in The Kingdom of Copper. Sometimes it is beautifully inspiring, whilst at other times, it breaks the reader’s heart and wraps them in a great sense of grief and sadness.

Out of the three of them, Alizayd was my second favourite to read about. In The City of Brass he was a spoiled palace brat that could never formulate political opinions that were distinctly his own; ideas and beliefs that were not tainted by the influences of a brother he worshipped and a father he respected above all else. Now that he has been exiled, having to fight for the simplest of things changes him in ways that are astounding as the narrative moves forward. He really comes into his own and becomes a man that is much more than his brother’s keeper or his father’s pawn. He is carved into a person with a ferocity and strength that only comes from wanting to abate suffering.

A second perspective that was as delightful as it was distressing to read about (and also my favourite in the whole book) was Darayavahoush’s. For the first time, we get a glimpse of how the world works through his eyes. There are so many moments when Dara has clarity and understands what it is that should not be done versus what should yet falls utterly powerless to help alter the actions that unfold in the pursuit of tragedy. The more darkness he witnesses with regard to the people he respects and admires, the more he comes to comprehend that things are not as blatantly black and white as he perceived them to be. It causes him to open his mind to the possibilities that he has been wrong for a very, very long time. These newfound personal revelations create an internal conflict within Dara that is breathtakingly sorrowful and perversely compelling as he is forced to choose sides.

“It was a grin that made Dara sick. That was what he looked like now when he shifted, his fire-bright skin, gold eyes, and clawed hands a mirror of the demons who’d enslaved him. That his ancestors had looked the same before Suleiman’s curse was of little comfort. It hadn’t been his ancestor’s grin he’d seen just before the fetid water of the well closed over his face.”

We also have a plethora of side characters that play key roles in keeping the main cast plunging onwards with their narratives. What I love about these more supporting individuals is how much attention they are given. They are not merely unnamed pieces on a board but have difficulties and morals and individualism all their own that helps the reader to formulate an intense emotional bond to them. I became wholly invested in their desires and pursuits, at times more so than the main trio. Everyone has phenomenal chemistry relative to their relationship to each other as well, whether they are friends or foes.

The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy, Book 2) by S. A. ...

The rudimentary examination of the city’s tightly knit political atmosphere is taken up quite a few notches in The Kingdom of Copper. There is a near-labrynthine connection between the different factions, their faith and what they believe they’ve been owed for centuries, their right to exist, their desire to break from subjugation, and more. Betrayal is as common as the desert sand with compounding duplicities and jumbling loyalties. The intrigue is methodical with a slow-burn build of attrition that is provoked by dwindling hope and a fierce exhaustion of constant brutal persecution.   

The Kingdom of Copper is very different than the first book in that The City of Brass was jam-packed with action and snappy comebacks as well the magical acclimation of characters. Whereas, this sequel is dedicated in fleshing out the people we know and love and the minute yet vastly vital details of the city of Daevabad, particularly where stateship is concerned. Both are equally thrilling and irresistible without losing sight of the ultimate story and should be devoured by all fans of the fantasy genre.