Tanaz Bhathena is the author of Hunted by the Sky, the first of a YA fantasy duology set in a world inspired by medieval India, along with the acclaimed YA titles The Beauty of the Moment and A Girl Like That.
She sat down with us to discuss her latest fantasy book, and how her unique background has influenced her writing.
Brianna: What are some of the factors that inspired you to write your latest book, Hunted by the Sky?
Tanaz: I loved reading fantasy fiction as a child. I was born in Mumbai and grew up in Saudi Arabia, reading American and European stories about werewolves, witches, and vampires. At the same time, I was enthralled by Indian TV shows based on mythology and history like Ramayan and Akbar Birbal. But when it came to writing my own stories, I defaulted to the books I read and imitated Western fantasy authors. My own imagination never really matched up to these writers and, at the time, I didn’t understand why.
After I finished writing my first novel A Girl Like That, I wanted to try something different. Still too intimidated by fantasy, I decided to write something a little more “realistic”—a science fiction dystopian novel, which didn’t turn out well. I loved the characters in that book but the plot and setting were both skeletal. Then a friend of mine suggested using magic instead of new technology. I thought to myself: Why not? What do I have to lose?
I decided to add magic into the book. I also changed the setting from a completely new world to one inspired by medieval India, a historical period I was obsessed with as a teenager. I also delved into mythology that I grew up listening to—stories from the Shahnameh, the Ramayan and the Mahabharat. As I began rewriting, everything began falling into place. It was as if I’d unlocked a door and a whole world was waiting for me behind it. All I needed to do was embrace my culture and also write in the genre that scared me the most!
Brianna: Your life has taken you all sorts of places, from being born in India to being raised in Saudi Arabia and Canada. The influences of these experiences are easy to see in your fiction. How do you think having a multicultural upbringing has affected you creatively?
Tanaz: Having lived in two very different parts of the world, I’m always fascinated by how the history and politics of a country impacts its people. This often translates into my writing: I like viewing the story through the perspectives of different characters—be it a middle-aged school teacher in Saudi Arabia or a teenage student in Canada. I’m always asking myself—“Why does your character do this? What happened in their lives that made them act in this way at this point in time?”
Brianna: What does good representation mean to you?
Tanaz: As a reader: when I read a story and start smiling and nodding along or have that visceral gut-punch reaction that makes me go—this is real. As a writer: to dig deep into my own culture if I’m writing about it, to dig even deeper if I’m writing about someone else’s culture or traditions. I don’t always get things right. But the idea is to learn from your mistakes and do better with your next book—to always try and keep doing better.
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.