Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of May, where Asian and Pasifika authors are invited to celebrate being Asian and Pasifika work and literature! Find the introduction post for Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month here.
A few months ago, I was in the mood for a sweeping fantasy that was rich with detail and magic, beautifully plotted, and about complex women warriors. Though that was quite a specific mood, I found my mood very much satisfied after I read Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena. Though Tanaz may be known for her excellent young adult contemporary stories, namely the searing portrayal of rape culture and and female sexuality in A Girl Like That and the new girl/bad boy romance in The Beauty of the Moment, I was swept away by her fantasy debut; I was enchanted by the magic and influence of goddesses, and mesmerised by the intriguing yet dangerous world within.
It is such a huge honour to be able to have Tanaz Bhathena herself visit us at the Pond for Asian Pasifika Heritage Month – and she visits us as a bespectacled orange fox! After reading Hunted by the Sky, I knew instantly that I wanted to interview her – and I am incredibly excited to be able to share the interview that I did with Tanaz today.
But, before I share my interview with Tanaz, I would like to take the opportunity to introduce to you The Wrath of Ambar duology. Hunted by the Sky is out now, but Rising Like a Storm, the second book and conclusion, releases next month at the end of June.
The Wrath of Ambar duology by Tanaz Bhathena
Blurb for Hunted by the Sky:
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.
Author Interview: Tanaz Bhathena
CW: Hello Tanaz! A big and warm welcome to The Quiet Pond; I’m so excited that you are here visiting us today. For any of our friends who may only be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Tanaz: Hi CW! I’m equally excited to visit The Quiet Pond! I’m an Indian-Canadian writer with several young adult novels, both contemporary and fantasy. I lived in Saudi Arabia for the first fifteen years of my life before moving to Canada, so my writing has always been influenced by several different cultures.
CW: I recently read your young adult fantasy, Hunted by the Sky, and I was blown away by the sweeping and intricate worldbuilding, the magic, and the high-stakes story. I had so much fun reading it! What was the most fun part of the writing process?
Tanaz: Thanks so much! This entire duology—Hunted by the Sky and Rising like a Storm—was incredibly fun to write. The best part was taking all the research I did and changing things around to add magic to it.
CW: Hunted by the Sky is described as a story inspired by medieval India, and I really enjoyed the world that you created. What were the historical influences that you drew from when crafting the story’s world? Were the Sisters of the Golden Lotus inspired by a particular group of women in history?
Tanaz: I drew inspiration from 15th and 16th century India, which wasn’t modern India as we know it today, but a region called Hindustan. The setting was largely inspired by the stunning Rajput and Mughal palaces in Rajashtan and Delhi, the court politics and drama of that time period. Yes, the Sisters of the Golden Lotus were inspired by a real life group called the Gulabi Gang in North India. The group, which is now a welfare organization in India has vigilante roots—women wearing gulabi(rose)-coloured saris went from village to village protecting other women. I knew I absolutely wanted something like that in my series!
CW: One of my favourite parts of Hunted by the Sky was the prophecy; how Gul, the main character, is the propecised Star Warrior. Yet, there are opposing forces at play, wherein Gul has to elude the people who hunt her because they fear what the prophecy means for them. What was your motivation of making a prophecy a significant element in the story? (Other than the fact that prophecies are really cool, of course!)
Tanaz: I sort of knew going in that there was this kingdom called Ambar and that the king was hunting these girls with star-shaped birthmarks—kidnapping them, taking them away from their families. But I needed to understand why. Astrology was huge in India back then—it’s huge even today. Priests held great sway with kings and rulers and so I imagined there had to be a prediction or a prophecy that would make the king behave in such a manner.
CW: You have also written two young adult contemporaries: A Girl Like That and The Beauty of the Moment. In your experience, how did writing contemporary differ from writing fantasy? What were some of the challenges that you encountered and overcame?
Tanaz: The main difference was that in fantasy you have to define your own rules for the world—and you have to stick to those rules. You also need to create a magic system that’s interesting and that works logically according to the rules you make. But, other than that, you need to focus on the main elements of storytelling—a believable plot and complex, compelling characters–which is the same across the board, contemporary or fantasy.
CW: Across your work, you write about interesting and complex girls who challenge and subvert society’s expectations of them. What ‘place’ – whether it be personal experiences or real life sources – do you write from when crafting the characterisations for your protagonists?
Tanaz: I’ve always been challenging society’s expectations of girls and women—since I was very young. I remember being maybe five or six years old and my mom saying “a girl’s place is in the kitchen.” I distinctly remember asking “Why?” and when my mom said “because that’s what girls do,” I said “No.” LOL! So I’ve always come from a place of rebelling against people telling me what I’m supposed to be doing.
CW: Your next book Rising Like a Storm, which is the conclusion of your The Wrath of the Ambar duology, is due to release next month in June. Congratulations – I’m so excited to see what is in store for Gul! In the vaguest way possible, what can fans of Hunted by the Sky expect from the sequel?
Tanaz: I love how you’ve phrased “In the vaguest way possible”—LOL! You will definitely see more of Gul, Cavas and the Sisters. There is a war going on and you will also come across a new antagonist who I had a lot of fun writing.
CW: Are you writing anything at the moment? What is next for you?
Tanaz: I am writing something new that I can’t yet talk about, but it’s in the same universe as Hunted by the Sky and Rising like a Storm.
CW: Thank you so much for visiting, Tanaz! My last question is a question I ask all of our guests. What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?
Tanaz: Dhansak! That’s a rich Parsi (Indian-Zoroastrian) lentil and meat stew eaten with rice browned and flavored with onions.
About the Author
Tanaz Bhathena writes books for young adults. Her latest novel, Hunted by the Sky, was named a Best Book of the Year by the CBC and USBBY, with the sequel Rising like a Storm releasing on June 22, 2021. Her novel, The Beauty of the Moment, won the Nautilus Gold Award for Young Adult Fiction and was 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 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.