Hunted by the Sky: Engaging characters in a vivid alternate world

Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsHunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsHunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena

Hunted by the Sky (2020) is the first book in Tanaz Bhathena’s YA fantasy duology THE WRATH OF AMBAR. Bhathena is an award-winning YA author, and Hunted by the Sky is her first foray into YA fantasy. Set in an alternate world based on medieval India, the story held my interest with its magic, suspense, and the conflicts the two main characters face. The descriptions of settings delighted me.

Gul has spent her life in hiding and on the run, because of a star-shaped birthmark and a prophecy. When her parents are murdered by Shayla, a Sky Warrior known as The King’s Scorpion, a group of women rebels takes Gul in. Gul lives for only one thing, revenge against Shayla and against Raja Lohar, the king.

Cavas is the son of two non-magical people, who are treated as second-class citizens and relegated to life in the polluted and poisoned tenements. Cavas works as a stableboy in the royal compound. He will do anything he can to move his father out of the tenements in the hopes that will cure him of the fatal Tenement Fever. A meeting with Gul in the marketplace, which seems to be a coincidence at first, changes the trajectory of both characters’ lives, reveals more about the magic, and uncovers secrets hidden by the historians of the kingdom.

Plotwise, the story relies on very comfortable tropes. Gul is a Chosen One, possibly the Star Warrior. The prophecy is, of course, cryptic and incomplete. There is the requisite evil king and the evil king’s henchwoman. In one or two other parts of the book, I found events, while not exactly derivative, very, very familiar, such as the passages where Amira, one of the Sisters, is assigned to train Gul in battle magic. The two women dislike each other and Gul refuses to learn from her. It isn’t exactly Harry Potter and Snape, mainly because the two women are closer to equals, but the resonance is there. I noticed this enough to comment on it, but it did not bother me or jar me out of the story. It’s hard to find a book out there that doesn’t borrow, tweak or play with the plot points of other works. More importantly, the conflicts Gul and Cavas face seem authentic and their various dilemmas gripped me.

Tanaz Bhathena

Tanaz Bhathena

The other things I loved about the story were the description of the magic, the different races in neighboring kingdoms, and the settings. Both interiors and landscapes are filled with life.

She looks around, her eye widening as she finally takes everything in for the first time — havelis, houses, and shops built much like the rest of Ambarvadi, stacked in a series of deep inclines and steps, except for the colors, which range from saffron and peacock blue to pistachio green and rose-petal pink.

 

“They look like boxes from the sweet-seller’s,” Gul says with awe.

Secondary characters like Juhi, Amari, Rani Amba, Latif and even Gul’s horse are rounded and interesting. Near the end of the book we see a bit into the life of Shayla and get the beginnings of an explanation of why she is the way she is, but it’s clear that we will see more of her in the second book, Rising Like a Storm, due out in June 2021.

Hunted by the Sky gave me a different, vibrant world and engaging characters to follow. I eagerly await the conclusions of Gul’s and Cavas’s stories.

Published in June 2020. Exploring identity, class struggles, and high-stakes romance, Tanaz Bhathena’s Hunted by the Sky is a gripping adventure set in a world inspired by medieval India. 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.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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