Hello everybody. Today’s post is a spoiler free review of Tanaz Bhathena’s YA Fantasy Hunted by the Sky, followed by an interview with the author.
Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge. Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl–Gul–in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance–and discovers a magic he never expected to find. Dangerous circumstances have brought Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort . . . a world with secrets deadlier than their own. Exploring identity, class struggles, and high-stakes romance, Hunted by the Sky is a gripping adventure set in a world inspired by medieval India.
My review of Hunted by the Sky
I really liked Gul. She’s very much a survivor and despite everything that she’s been through, she remains a very fierce and determined young woman. In fact, all of the female characters in this book are strong, kickbutt women, such as the Sisterhood of the Golden Lotus, a group of warrior women who take Gul in after her parents are killed. I also liked Cavas, the male lead and Gul’s love interest. He has a more reserved personality but his storyline was also really good. I liked the romance that gradually develops between Gul and Cavas and I’m looking forward to how this further develops in book 2.
An enchanting setting inspired by Indian history and myths
The world of Hunted by the Sky is heavily inspired by Indian history and the result is a gorgeously described setting reminiscent of the magnificence of medieval India. The author also took inspiration from Indian and Persian myths to create the mythological background of Svapnalok. If you love Indian and Persian mythologies, you will definitely really enjoy the enchanting myths of Svapnalok. This book is also filled with magic. For instance, magic users known as the magi can use various forms of magic, including whispering, which allows them to communicate with animals.
The descriptive writing style helps create a world that is rich in details and very realistic in its portrayal of Indian culture. We get to learn about the various kingdoms that exist in this world, as well as these kingdoms’ cultures. For instance, we are given a lot of descriptions of the various delicious dishes that our characters eat throughout the book, such as pulao, mawa, kachori, khoba roti, lotus sabzi and chandrama (my favorite in the book), which is a treat unique to the book and which is described as being a round pastry with edible foil and rose petals. Similarly, a lot of attention is given to the types of clothing that our characters wear, such as the sari and ghagra worn by women and the dhoti worn by men. The description of the language spoken in the book is also very detailed, and includes a lot of culture specific terminologies. For readers who might not be familiar with the language, an extensive glossary is included in the book. As someone who grew up watching Bollywood movies with English subtitles (and who has a passable understanding of spoken Hindi), I really enjoyed seeing all these Indian words and terms throughout the book.
The story is very action-packed, which I really enjoyed. I was hooked from the start to the end. I can’t really go into specific details about the different plotlines without giving away spoilers, but what I can say is that the book really delivers in terms of the political conflicts between the kingdoms, as well as magical intrigues to do with the mythology of this world. I honestly can’t wait for the next book to come to see how all these plotlines unfold.
My final thoughts
Overall, this was a very satisfying read, full of intrigue and magic and I highly recommend it, especially to readers who enjoy fantasy stories that feature mythological elements. It’s going to be a very, very long wait until the next book comes out!
Interview with Tanaz Bhathena
QaS: In your author’s note, you mentioned that you were inspired by Vedic India to craft the world in which the story is set. What was it in particular that drew you to this specific period of Indian history?
TB: I was born in India and grew up in Saudi Arabia, where I attended an Indian school for fifteen years. I learned about Indian history in school and was introduced to it through shows such as the Ramayan and the Mahabharat on television. I remember being completely absorbed by these stories as a child and I was drawn back to Indian history again while writing this book. While this book is partially inspired by Vedic India, a lot of it is also based on medieval Indian history—the battles, the court politics, the many kingdoms that rose and fell during that time.
QaS: You also mentioned at the end of the book that you took your inspiration from the Indian women in your life to create your characters, as well as historical figures such as Rani Lakshmibai, Nur Jahan, and Razia Sultana. With regards to these iconic female rulers, what was your research process like?
TB: I read a lot of historical non-fiction, especially by women historians like Dr. Ruby Lal and authors like Ira Mukhoty, and looked up various sources online to get more stories about these powerful figures.
QaS: The magic system in this book is very intricate, with the magi being able to wield different forms of magic and spells. If you could use a particular spell or form of magic, which one would you pick?
TB: Oh, I love this question! I would choose whisper magic—the ability to telepathically communicate with animals.
QaS: In this book, we meet all sorts of strange and often dangerous animals, such as the shadowlynx, the dustwolf, the blood bat and the mammoth, among a few others. Will the next book introduce us to more of these animals, perhaps even new ones that we haven’t met yet?
TB: You’ll have to read the second book to find out 🙂
QaS: Likewise, this first book introduces us to the Pashu, a race of half-animal and half-human beings. In this book, some of the Pashu that we learn about are the makara, the peri, the simurgh and the rajsingha. Without spoiling too much, will we meet more of the Pashu in the next book?
TB: Yes 🙂
QaS: Over the course of the book, we learn a lot about the past military history of the kingdoms that used to form the then united empire of Svapnalok. We learn about several wars and conflicts, such as The Great War that divided the empire, as well as the Battle of the Desert and the Three-Year War. What was your inspiration to create such a complex historical background for this world? Also, did you have any specific method to keep track of all the different historical figures and events?
TB: Honestly, when I wrote the book, I felt my historical background for Svapnalok was much too simple—especially when you compare it to India’s own history! The subcontinent was formed over a period of time and there is so much that has changed over the past few centuries, with many kingdoms having risen and vanished, with imperial rule. I wanted Svapnalok to feel real to me the way India did—and that wasn’t really possible without a bit of history.
That said, I definitely had a separate document to keep track of the events and different figures!
QaS: A lot of detail is also given to weaponry and warfare in this book. For example, in this world, the Sky Warriors of the kingdom of Ambar use a powerful weapon known as the atashban. We are also introduced to the Yudhnatam, which is a form of martial arts practiced by the members of the Sisterhood of the Golden Lotus. What was your inspiration to create the different forms of weaponry and warfare featured in the book?
TB: The atashban was an idea that I had brewing in mind for a long time. Atash means “fire” in Persian and ban means “arrow” in Hindi: they’re these crossbows that shoot deadly magical fire. Yudhnatam was partially inspired by the south Indian martial art of kalaripayattu. I also looked up museum archives to see the different forms of weapons used by the Mughals, the Rajputs, the Marathas, even the Persians in the 15th and 16th century.
QaS: This book also features a lot of deliciously descriptive details about the Indian-inspired dishes that the people of Ambar eat – pulao, mawa, khoba roti and lotus sabzi among many others. What are some of your favorite Indian dishes or desserts?
TB: I love karimeem fish curry, biryani, and dhansak. In terms of desserts, I love jalebi—especially the giant jalebi from Lookhmanji’s in Mumbai.
QaS: The world of Hunted by the Sky features mythical beings and richly described myths that beautifully pay homage to Indian and Persian mythologies. For example, the rekha, a magical barrier that blocks access to the king’s palace, is reminiscent of the Lakshman Rekha, another famous magical barrier that features in the Ramayan and that was created by the prince Lakshman to protect his brother’s bride, Sita. What were some of the other myths that you drew inspiration from to create the mythology of Svapnalok?
TB: I’m so pleased you drew parallels between the rekha at Ambar Fort and the Lakshman Rekha; that was indeed an inspiration! I also drew inspiration from the concept of the avatar, where gods take on human forms and come to earth, and put my own spin on it. Won’t say too much to avoid spoilers, but if you read the book, you’ll be able to see it.
QaS: And finally, can you tell us about some of your favorite Indian or Persian myths?
TB: I love stories about Lord Hanuman from the Ramayan. I also am a fan of darker stories from the Shahnameh like that of Faridun and Zohak
About the author
Tanaz Bhathena writes books for young adults. Her sophomore novel, The Beauty of the Moment, won the Nautilus Gold Award for Young Adult Fiction and has also been nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Award. Her acclaimed debut, A Girl Like That, was named a Best Book of the Year by numerous outlets including The Globe and Mail, Seventeen, and The Times of India. Her latest book, Hunted by the Sky, is the first of a YA fantasy duology set in a world inspired by medieval India, with the sequel Rising like a Storm releasing on June 22, 2021. Her short stories have appeared in various publications including The Hindu, Blackbird, Witness, and Room. Born in India and raised in Saudi Arabia and Canada, Tanaz lives in Mississauga, Ontario, with her family.
You can follow Tanaz online at the following: