Gul has spent most of her life running. Running away from whom and why? Maybe it’s related to the star-shaped birthmark on her arm. In the kingdom of Ambar intricately woven by Tanaz Bhathena in Hunted by the Sky (published by Penguin India), girls having such birthmarks have been mysteriously disappear- ing for years. This very birthmark caused her parents’ murder on the orders of King Lohar.
Therefore, to protect her life, she had to hide. Gul is later rescued by Sisters of the Golden Lotus, the group of rebels who train her in warrior magic. After which, she wants to avenge her parent’s death.
As the story moves forward, Gul crosses path with Cavas who is dealing with his share of problems and dark secrets. As the mysteries unfold, Gul and Cavas somehow land in the king’s domain in Ambar Fort, that is replete with secrets deadlier than their own. Will there be a fall of King Lohar’s reign?
Interestingly, the rebels in Tanaz’s novel the Sisters of the Golden Lotus are inspired from Gulabi Gang, a vigilante group from Banda district of Uttar Pradesh, on whom a documentary and film have been made. Says Tanaz, “I found the origin story of the Gulabi Gang incredibly fascinating. Women coming to the rescue of other women, was inspiring to me and that’s what led to the creation of the Sisters of the Golden Lotus.”
The first in a young adult fantasy duology, Hunted by the Sky, offers a mélange of identity, class struggle, vengeance, hope, sisterhood and a high-stake romance in a world weaved with magic. Asked about whether there is any similarity between this fantastical world and the reality around us, Tanaz replies, “I believe that the world of Ambar does resonate with ours in various ways. People perform magic in Ambar; however, magic doesn’t solve all their problems. Similarly, technology doesn’t solve all of our issues. Magic also requires dedication and practice to perfect like any other art form. Gul is initially unable to access her magical powers and when she does perform magic, it takes a real toll on her body.”
She further adds that the class divides between the magi and the non-magi in Ambar are also reflective of what can happen in a society where the minority are oppressed by the majority.”
The fantasy novel is set in a world inspired by medieval India. The fascination began during the teenage years. Elaborating on it, she says, “As a teen, I was obsessed with India during the medieval period. And remember being in history class and enthralled by stories about the Mughals, the Rajputs and the Marathas. While creating the world for Hunted by the Sky, this period and setting drew me the most.”
Tanaz explored certain intricate details for this work that includes looking up museum archives online and primary sources such as the Ayeen Akbary by Abul Fazl Mobarak for the research. She also studied several historical non-fiction books by Ruby Lal, Abraham Eraly and William Dalrymple. Developing the magic system was fairly challenging for the author but it was also a lot of fun. She had to understand that magic didn’t come with- out a cost and that there had to be rules about how it could be used and by whom.
“I also had to write a couple of drafts to deepen the motivations of the characters but that is typical of most novels I write — early drafts tend to be more skeletal,” reveals the author behind the acclaimed novels The Beauty of the Moment and A Girl Like That.
Being born in India and raised in Saudi Arabia and Canada, did this cross-cultural experience alter the author’s perspective towards what the world has to offer? “Surely, as Saudi Arabia and Canada are diverse culturally and having lived in both these countries, it’s easier for me to slip into the skins of different characters, be it a middle-aged Expat teacher in Jeddah or a teenager born in Mississauga.”