Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hijacked by EXO AKA How I Have Officially Lost My Sanity

Something momentous happened over the last week. Our college Wi-Fi suddenly decided to let Youtube past its firewalls and the timing couldn’t have been more off, what with our exams happening. Let it be known that I resisted. Every time my eyes grew weary (which was every ten minutes) I would take a break and check what the social media was up to. When in boredom, tumble down Tumblr – isn’t what they say, anyways?

 My finger would unconsciously stray over to the Youtube icon. It would take all of my strength, but I would wrench it back and plop myself in front of the books again. This routine played itself out three or four times before I thought, “Well now girl, you deserve yourself a little treat.” Little did I know that I was venturing into a territory, well past the point of no return.

Sometimes Youtube outdoes itself when recommending videos. Of course, it couldn’t have picked a better time than then to suggest this video that would make me watch another one. And then another one that would force me to watch the next one. It would take a TWO HOUR STUDY BREAK worth of videos during exams before I condemned myself to be damned.

So about a month back, I’d watched some EXO music videos (which were mind-blowingly awesome as always) but I’d never exactly considered myself a kpop fan. True, their beats were catchy; granted, their choreography was breath-taking – but STILL, you know? Some part of me thought they were too flashy for their own good.

This holier-than-thou attitude was brought to a sudden death by a video that Youtube recommended to me. Don’t ask me which life-altering video it was – I have no idea. All I know was that it was some video of EXO goofing about. What do you know – stars really are just like us!

It took me some ten videos before I realized I wanted to know more about them. Thus started my extensive research. That’s when I taught myself to recognize their faces and learn their names. And then I learnt that three of them had quit EXO.

Have you heard of delayed heartbreak? Well, now you know.

Reader, I was heartbroken. They’d quit a year back, and I was shedding tears now. I curled into a ball and moaned into a pillow like a madwoman.

Sure, why not? Laugh at my misery.

Then like any other possessed fangirl, (did I mention I’d become an honest-to-god EXO fan by then?) I rolled up my cuffs and proceeded to recruit members into the fandom from the neighbourhood. I shoved EXO music videos into their faces and watched in satisfaction as their expressions slowly morphed from sneering disdain into something close to wonder. I barely held back my grin as the first round of the converted brought other unbelievers into my room for their baptism into the fandom. I viciously lashed out at the sceptics who thought they wore too much makeup to still be called guys (“FYI a guy who embraces the metrosexual aesthetic isn’t feminine – it’s just a sign of how secure he is in his masculinity to not feel threatened by makeup”). All the while Youtube kept recommending more videos wherein I watched Chanyeol and D.O. have their moments (those two will make myself puncture a rib someday, I swear), Kai’s infectious laughter, Baekhyun’s penchant for mimicry, Lay’s broken Hangeul and his many (un)fortunate language mishaps, Tao’s shyness, Kris’ and Chanyeol’s rapping sessions and – GOD  I could go on.

Then Tumblr thought it would be funny to mention some web drama of theirs and then Google corroborated to this and then I was truly lost.

This has gotten so much out of control that I found myself wishing that the firewall blocked Youtube again, simply because I yearned peace of mind. It truly is disastrous when you’re a newly minted fangirl and there happens to be simply no dearth of Youtube videos of your idols. And the time put into “research” about your idols falls right in between your exams.


Monday, October 5, 2015

REVIEW: Rose Under Fire - Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein is a hero. If the act of merely reading her books is sufficient enough to make me feel like I’m choking on air, I can’t even imagine what’s it like for her to conceive her books in her head and bleed life into the pages with her fingers. Code Name Verity damn near killed me. The companion novel Rose Under Fire killed me. Even though CNV is not a reading prerequisite for RUF, it will help many a haplessly clueless reader ease into unfamiliar territory.  

I completed RUF some time back. At that time, I felt I was in an emotionally compromised state to write a coherent review. Deciding to put some time between the reading and the reviewing is one of my more brilliant ideas. If this book is on your TBR pile as well, you’ll know why eventually.

Anyway, being an Ignorant American Schoolgirl gives me an open ticket to ask brazen questions, and I’d already put my foot in my mouth, so I just went on.
“What is a concentration camp, Fliss?”

Given an opportunity, I have never failed to manage to squeeze in a reminder that I love historical fiction. Consequently, I have greatly taken advantage of fiction under the backdrop of the World Wars and the Holocaust, whether in print or on screen. I thought I knew what concentration camps are. I thought I knew what went on in there. I thought I was better than Rosie.

My mistake.

Rose Justice is an ATA pilot – out of America and in England, chasing her love for planes. For her, the horrors happening in Germany and elsewhere was an abstract idea – she knew people were dying and they needed saving. For her, the real tragedy lay in Doodlebug Brides and couples getting married in haste and boys fiddling with unexploded bombs in the hopes they can defuse them. Then again, she’s just eighteen years old crazily in love with flying in the sky and writing poems.

Everywhere I go I meet people who are hunting for husbands, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, lovers, and they are all gone.
Your friend Rose has evaporated with them. I don’t know what else to tell you Maddie.

Then the horror accounts start. How they start by taking away your name and giving you a number. We hear about fleas who are in league with the SS. About 50,000 women locked inside a prison half a mile wide and a quarter of a mile across with no toilets. We learn of Rabbits. Our lives are changed forever.

When you lost hope, you turned into a schmootzich, one of the mindless beggars who were the bottom-crawlers of that entire scummy camp, or you died.

If you think this book is one of those books that preach nothing but morbidity and mortal moroseness in the name of empathy, you are dead wrong. This is not one of those books. This is that book that inspires awe. Awe at how much life and hope and dreams can thrive even in places that seem beyond despair.

It took me a long time to write ‘The Subtle Briar’, but it was translated into three languages in a day. Every time it got passed on I got another bread ration. Oh God, we needed something to cling to. We were scared.

The technical bits about bombs and planes, the poems and the characters are what sets the book apart from its peers. Many might feel the tech stuff is infodump but I lived for it. The Subtle Briar and Playing Statues are my favourites. Róza, Irina, Karolina, Lisette, Micheline, Elodie are my favourites. Even Anna. And Nick from the Nick stories. You will be rendered unable to label them fictional characters because of the sheer depth Wein has endowed them with, which is an accomplishment considering the number of characters this book is peppered with.

When you’re flying, the changing balance of lift and weight pulls you up and down. But another pair of forces pulls you forward or backwards through air: thrust and drag.
From Kite Flying: four principles of flight (by Rose Justice)

I think what made me love this book is the fact that there are no unnecessary deaths. (And by that, I am in no way claiming that the deaths that do happen were necessary.) I have noticed a disturbingly common authorial tendency to wantonly disregard fictional characters’ lives. Like they think killing off someone we love in our faces and the tears and heartbreak that inevitably follow is the price of loving a book. But Rose Under Fire does not resort to any such cheap tricks even though it could have and I love it all the more for it.

VERDICT: Freaking Five Stars

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Difference Between A Trip And A Journey

Let it never be said that you weren’t forewarned. This post is an abrupt departure from my usual volley of posts (or the lack thereof) and for the longest time I hid from my laptop because I was itching to write this and writing this would mean my admission to it. Something I’ve been successfully avoiding for so long.

Here I am, in the penultimate semester of college, with still no clue whatsoever about what I want to do with my life. Or rather, how I am going to do what I want with my life. Even as I changed my ambitions daily – from wanting to be a teacher to a nun to an archaeologist to a criminal psychologist to a physicist to an engineer – the only constant that remained was my love for books. And even though the decision was made unconsciously, the reason why I didn’t pursue a degree in literature, but rather in engineering, was phrased more eloquently than I could have ever done, in a Korean drama I just finished watching recently.

I’ll state it bluntly. I’m fucking scared. I am now standing at the figurative, much-clichéd, crossroads of my life – with no road maps of any sort. I have a destination. A five-year plan. A twenty-year plan. But ask me what the hell I’m planning on doing next year and I’ll just shrug desolately.

I thought the reason why I read so much was only because I loved it. I recently had an epiphany and realized that was just not it.

I was running away.

In some remote corner of my mind, I knew what I was doing. Escaping reality. Postponing the moment I had to make a choice. Pretending as though I had already started on the trip that would take me to my destination.

People tend to think a journey is the line connecting two points: the start and the end. But in actuality, it’s a broken, jagged line consisting of several lines connecting several points in between. Whilst we’re on the journey, the end point changes several times.
“How long until the next rest stop?”
“Are we there at that bridge yet?”
“Tell me if you see the sign for a U-turn.”

I know what I have to do. Fill the tank. Get the tyres checked. Get in the car. Start the ignition. Get the map I’ve drawn for myself out and start driving. As simple as that. And it terrifies me.

But I’m going to do it. I’ll start by drawing the map first.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

AUTHOR BINGE: Melina Marchetta

Melina Marchetta was born in Sydney Australia. Her first novel, Looking For Alibrandi was awarded the Children's Book Council of Australia award in 1993 and her second novel, Saving Francesca won the same award in 2004. Looking For Alibrandi was made into a major film in 2000 and won the Australian Film Institute Award for best Film and best adapted screen play, also written by the author. On the Jellicoe Road was released in 2006 and won the WAYRBA voted by teenagers in Western Australia in 2008. It also won the US Printz Medal in 2009 for excellence in YA literature. This was followed up by Finnikin of the Rock in 2008 which won the Aurealis Award for YA fantasy, The Piper's Son in 2010 which was shortlisted for the Qld Premier's Lit Award, NSW Premier's Lit Award, Prime Minister's Literary Awards, CBC awards and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. Her follow up to Finnikin, Froi of the Exiles will be released in Australia in October and the US in March 2012.

My introduction to the phenomenon that is Melina Marchetta was not a smooth one. It was not even a respectable introduction. Dammit, my first impression of Jellicoe Road was – what the fuck was happening? Who the fuck are all these people? I had thought this book was going to be another one of those high school coming-of-age cliché novels and I was wholly unprepared when the book flung me headlong into open fire.

I slammed the book close and forgot all about it. I later spied upon it and decided to give it another try, especially since everyone on Goodreads was raving about it. I laboured up to a tenth of the book, at which point I promptly abandoned it again.

I opened the book a third time, determined to understand what the fuck was happening. I read slowly, at a rate of a third of a page per minute. I laboured up to a tenth of the book, was sucked into it by a third of the book, fell in love midway and wept shamelessly at the end, cradling the book against me.

Marchetta writes her characters with a zeal that leaves you breathless. Her books begin with an explosion of characters who don’t wait to give you an introduction – the moment you open the book, you’ve been inserted to a frame in their lives, and it’s up to you to make sense of the story they want to say. Her characters ooze life. Even though we’re seeing the other characters through the narrator’s eyes, somehow Marchetta is able to give us the power to judge the characters ourselves, by showing their many sides. Every time I reach the end, I get overwhelmed by the feeling of love that supersedes every other feeling. She always manages to integrate the unconditional love of blood with the love woven in bonds of friendship. Bonds usually forged in the unlikeliest of places.

My GR reviews of her books that I've read:

Looking for AlibrandiLooking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I should have known.

I should have fucking known that this book would tread down the path to breaking my heart with its coming-of-age wisdom and reflections of a seventeen year old girl who tries to fit in but never could. I should have known that Jacob Coote will forever have himself imprinted on me and that John Barton will be that boy whose memory will always make me weep. I should have known that I could never bring myself to hate Michael Andretti and that I would end up feeling sorry for all the Nonna Katias and Marcus Sandfords in this world. And that I will forever worship Christina Alibrandi.

And if I had known all that prior to my reading this book, I probably wouldn't have had to deal with the emotional mess I'm in right now or the splitting headache because of clogged sinuses.

View all my reviews


Saving FrancescaSaving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"What did you like best about this book?"

"You mean apart from a plot that sucks you right in, and characters that come off as people with as much depth and as many faces real people do, and how every time I turn a page I have to mentally prepare myself for that feeling like there's something in my eye?"

"Yeah, apart from all that."

"No pretensions. No big words. No trying to wrap something that's raw and honest in beautiful lyrical lines or anything. No trying to come across like something more than it is."

God, I love this book to bits.

View all my reviews


And there's Jellicoe Road. I've read it twice already. For some reason, I find myself shelving off the inevitable review post on my blog citing lack of enough rereading. For now, I'll sign off this post by saying this book, THIS is my favourite Marchetta ever.

Friday, August 28, 2015

LISTING AWAY: From Page to Screen

Here. I am offering up this beautifully long post in the hopes that it will compensate appropriately for the morbid lack of activity in this space. Believe me, it was not intentional. And for some reason, this list took longer than I’d imagined and I ended up falling asleep on the keyboard and jerked awake in the wee hours of morning with half the letters imprinted on my face.
I hope you find the punishment the bloggerverse conspired to inflict upon me, suitable for my grievous crimes.

Adaptations that broke my heart because they were the consummate apotheosis of their literary parent
  1. The Help
  2. The Secret Life Of Bees
  3. The Book Thief
  4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  5. The Boy in Striped Pajamas
  6. The Perks of Being A Wallflower
  7. To Kill A Mockingbird
  8. The Outsiders
  9. The Hunger Games
  10. The Lord of the Rings (I’m not so hot about The Hobbit trilogy, though)
  11. The Kite Runner
 Adaptations that surprisingly surpassed their literary parent
  1. The Princess Diaries
  2. P.S. I Love You (The book’s still a DNF)
  3. The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants
  4. A Walk To Remember
  5. The Time-Traveller’s Wife (I despised the book)
  6. Stardust
 Adaptations that made me add the literary parent to my TBR pile
  1. Everything is Illuminated (Lord, I need to read this real quick.)
  2. Les Miserables (GOD, yes)
  3. Memoirs of a Geisha (Why, why haven’t I still read it?)
  4. A Series Of Unfortunate Events
  5. True Grit
  6. The Maze Runner
  7. War Horse
  8. Bend it like Beckham
 Adaptations that made their literary parent proud
  1. Warm Bodies
  2. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (only #1 and #2 - Let’s face it, Dog Days sucked)
  3. Harry Potter (#1 - #3)
  4. I Am Number Four
  5. The Golden Compass
  6. Speak
  7. If I Stay
  8. Gone Girl
  9. Ender’s Game
  10. My Sister’s Keeper (There’s that thing with alternative ending though)
  11. Pride and Prejudice (UK version, 2005)
  12. Sense and Sensibility (1995)
  13. Divergent
  14. Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (well, sort of – I’m kinda partial to Magnus Bane)
  15. Life Of Pi
  16. One Day
  17. The Da Vinci Code
  18. Angels and Demons
 Adaptations that I am literally dying to see but haven’t already
  1. Looking For Alibrandi (please god please)
  2. Pride and Prejudice (BBC version)
  3. Insurgent
  4. Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (and the reason why I haven’t seen it yet is probably because it’s R-rated and banned, but I’ve heard rave reviews)
  5. Never Let Me Go
  6. The Scarlet Letter (1934)
  7. Gone with the Wind (maybe I should read the book first?)
  8. Paper Towns
  9. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
  10. Notes on a Scandal
  11. The Namesake
  12. Jane Eyre
 Adaptations that make me want to fling it on the screen playwright’s/director’s face
  1. Will whoever wrote the screenplay and directed the Percy Jackson movies please stand up?
  2. Harry Potter (#4 through #8 – I have some unresolved screenplay issues)
  3. The Host
  4. Eragon
  5. The Fault in our Stars (sorry, not sorry – but they slathered cheese all over it)
  6. Dear John (For some reason, I was mostly insulted by how much I didn’t like the movie – even though with the Tatum/Seyfried pair I should have, by all rights)
If you think I have missed a book or two, or classified a book/movie under an undeserving list, please do let me know. And do recommend! Most probably, I would be labouring under the delusion that my favourite book still hasn’t been turned into a movie yet and if that’s the case, I demand to know ASAP.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Promise Made To Ghosts

Fingers traced the words of,
The blood song etched on the walls.
The grandfather clock’s face was a thousand splinters,
Yet it hushed out a lullaby of “tick-tock”.

A memory –
Strong hands winding the gears.
A man whose back was,
Straighter than the pendulum,
Always bending, never breaking.

The night sand laboriously,
Of broken bones, broken hearts, broken dreams.
Weary eyes leaked out stories,
Into brine-stained pillows, always soaking.

A memory –
“Shut your eyes, child.”
A tender caress, softer than kisses.
Stories of the past, stories of the future,
Never of the present.

Four faces smiled out at me,
Jailed behind a broken glass.
Their ghosts rose up, as if to mock me,
“We’re full of life, how can we die?”

A memory –
One. Two. Three.
The bed rocked gently to the rhythm of the guns.
Pinkie curled around pinkie,
As two little hearts beat as one.

Death left behind souvenirs,
Token of a past life littered,
A doll here, a ball there.
Dust-caked and abandoned.

A memory –
A little boy sat on his father’s lap,
Proud and unafraid.
The woman weaved jasmine into,
Her little girl’s thick hair.

The sky groaned under the weight of,
Prayers it had received,
The rain scribbled consolation on my window,
Too little, too late?

A promise –
The guilt of the survivor,
Shall not wreck me,
Only the hope lives,
Of dreams about to take flight.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Manga Classics Mini – Reviews: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Po Tse, Stacy King and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, SunNeko Lee, Crystal Silvermoon, Stacy King

Oh yes. Surprise, surprise – this blog is showing symptoms of life again. I really have no idea how this blog went on an unprecedented hiatus– one week there I was, happily making a list of future posts most likely to show up in this space and then two months later I find myself, sitting desolately in front of a blinking cursor thirsting for words. Since we have found ourselves in this situation more often than we would have liked, I think it is time to officially place this blog in a state of eternal excusal on the grounds of academic workload that borders on intellectual slavery.

But I digress. Let us read that formidably long but enticing enough blog post title again and get right down to business.

Manga Classics: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Po Tse, Stacy King


I won’t be able to guarantee the exact number of Austenites who will like this book (and the hard-core ones probably won’t), but any estimation made would be done by taking those who love manga into consideration. And those who haven’t read the original classic either. And broadly speaking, those who give less importance to how faithful an illustrated character is to the biblio-characters and have an eye for beautiful graphics.

The reason I wanted to read this book in spite of my being a professional Jane Austen fangirl, was my manga-tastic literary and artistic senses tingled when I saw the title. Ergo, not a minute was wasted after being approved for a copy in cracking open the book.

This book succeeds in fulfilling its objective. It’s an enjoyably light read; one that you can quickly read through, especially if you, like me, know the novel well enough to quote lines by heart. Any time actually spent, is because you spent too much of it admiring the artistic details (watch out for a bare-chested Darcy in the highly charged climax – OOPS Spoiler Alert! Sorry, not sorry.)

But the Austenite in me couldn’t help but bristle at the manga version of Lizzy. I didn’t care much for the others’ but Lizzy’s killed me. Manga-Lizzy is blessed with luscious locks, venerable beauty and heavy boobs whereas the Classic-Lizzy is “tolerable” with a “pair of fine eyes”. And poor Manga-Collins is relegated to the level of comic relief while Manga-Charlotte appears only when necessary. Of course when considering the depth of the novel to be adapted and the required product, the effort expended is commendable.

I highly recommend picking up this book if you catch sight of it in an airport bookstore or packing it if you’re the kind of person (like me) who enjoys light reading material on road trips.

VERDICT: 3 stars

Manga Classics: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, SunNeko Lee, Crystal Silvermoon, Stacy King


The title of this book awed me into stupefaction. I personally consider it an achievement to even contemplate adapting a thousand-plus paged tome into manga. That book has always intimidated me due to its sheer volume despite my love for the movie and the – ahem – abridged novel we had to read for English in school. Of course, then it was only a matter of time before I got the manga version in my hands – I would love Les Miserables in any attire, although the mammoth classic still remains buried in my TBR pile. (I am yet to gain access to the Broadway musical and the TV series though.)

Let me take a moment to appreciate the panelling and the overall layout of the book. They enclosed a chunk of the factual portion of the actual novel in floating boxes, thus crunching down critical page space. As the story progresses we find a lot of flashback scenes and they’re almost never rendered in the same style, thus eliminating the annoying nag of repetition. And there were some scenes that you wanted to frame and hang on your wall – the emotion in the faces portrayed were too poignant. There were a limited number of extremely dramatic close-ups, instead the enormity of it all was brought to perspective by zooming out a character against an artistic backdrop. Then there were panels drawn that felt like snapshots from a thespian-grade movie. I loved the abrupt geometrical shapes of the panels used when a memorably jarring scene took place and the angle from which it was drawn. I could go on, actually.

I resent the necessity to cut down on the plot because of the page limit. Like Silvermoon, the screenwriter, says in the bonus material (which you should totally read, just to get an idea of the work involved behind the pages) many backstories and character-intensive sub-plots were omitted. But I liked the general structure of the plot and how they were divided into time-based, character-focused parts.

I actually read the book a while back so I don’t remember the exact places where I noticed some inconsistencies, but they were there. However, if you aren’t a reviewer, but a person with an insatiable appetite for art and words, please do yourself a favour and read this book.

VERDICT: 4 stars  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

REVIEW: The Wrath and The Dawn - Renee Ahdieh

My cheeks are pink and raw. My hand stings from all the slapping my cheeks endured. I catch sight of my roommates as they exchange worried glances at my increased tendencies to inflict harm upon self while reading this book.

I have not learnt my lesson and never will. A book’s ranking in my TBR list is still highly influenced by the book’s performance evaluated using standards defined by the mass. Which is why I picked up this book when I found space to breathe in between my exams, since everyone can’t stop flailing about it. And once I started reading it, promptly started faulting with it.
I avoid hate-reading as much as I can. But if everyone is swooning around the book, and I’m not, I stick around till the very end to see if the book redeems itself and if magically I’ll love the book too.

That didn’t happen here.

WARNING: Proceed with caution. I won’t spoil the potential reader; but once I start, it is difficult to contain my vehemence and fury at being scammed. Also, this is a 1000+ words review, sorry.

I am a sucker for the writing style. Disappoint me and the poor book will have incurred my wrath. I started out by liking the way the story was writing itself. About a chapter in, I quickly revised my assessment. The writing is annoyingly repetitive. The reader is kept entertained with regular weather reports and the menu cards for every meal. I go weak in the knees for books that employ a cinematic approach to the story which was why I laboured under the delusion I will like this one as well, since it has a similar objective but tragically fails at fulfilling it. The book didn’t have a cinematic writing mood – it was over-the-top dramatic and too pretentious for my taste. I felt like I was watching a fucking Bollywood movie; one in which everything happens in slow-motion, moral dilemmas are stretched on for hours, doors (both physical and emotional) are slammed when the central character wants a theatrical exit and lovers quarrel. In addition, no one is allowed to question the soundness of the plot, you just go along with the ebb and tide of it.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t do that.

Humour me and engage in a little method-acting. Imagine your inseparable friend of many years is the last victim after so many girls have been killed with no explanation by a guy you know nothing about. After wading through denial and recurring nightmares, the justifiable anger compels you to take revenge.

You decide to destroy him.

What do you do? Probably start with collecting as much information as possible about your mark. If your mark is the Caliph of a country, you will have to extend your research to the people he is around with. Draft plans A, B and C. Decide to get close to him and then hit him at his weakest.

You want to hear Shahrzad’s A Thousand and One Nights - inspired plan? Volunteer herself as the next bride to be killed, wait for the Caliph to come to her at night, charm him with her wit and storytelling prowess and then if he lets her live, then research him and when the opportunity presents itself, kill him.

Notice any flaws?

This book would not have happened if Khalid hadn’t come to meet her on the night of her wedding, because she didn’t have Plan B. And somehow the notion that cliff-hangers can postpone a scheduled execution is a bit ludicrous. But then, miracle of miracles, the Caliph decides she’s the one to break the cycle. (I distinctly remember muffling a scream with my pillow at that point.) Then she gets a tour of the palace, courtesy of a snarky handmaiden, and she gets shocked at the security and wonders at the strength of her “plan”.

No seriously, Shazi, what did you expect to see? The King of kings living alone in a gilded palace, waiting to present his head to you on a platter?

That’s not all she’s shocked by.

He’s the second-best swordsman in all of Khorasan? Well, damn, I didn’t cover that in my background check of him. Oh wait. I didn’t do one.”

Shahrzad is infuriating. She pretends to want archery tuitions and then promptly shoots an arrow like a pro. The next second she starts cursing herself for her “stupidity” and I’m left agape. When a particularly life-threatening episode happened, she rants against the Caliph and throws quite a tantrum. I mean, she’s literally outstaying her welcome and her life was a gift and she acted like it was a breach of trust that warranted Khalid the Where-Were-You-When-I-Was Dying interrogation. He’s still your best friend’s killer, isn’t he?

Guurl, you wanna know how to kill someone? Lemme show you how that's done.

Which brings me to my next point. We are supposed to love Shiva, the best friend mentioned above – no questions asked. No interspersed flashbacks. No nightmares. Just a lot of “Shiva, I will kill this man for you” and “Shiva, what do I do” and “Shiva, give me strength to withstand this inexplicable attraction to your killer” and other timed Shiva-tagged self-reminders that she should hate Khalid. She keeps obsessing about her “plan” for revenge half the time, and the other half is spent asking herself not to end up kissing the murderer. No actual murder attempts take place.

That’s just it. How do you fall in love with your best friend’s murderer? I’d expected answers to this question, not be left more flabbergasted than ever. This is where I admire Marie Lu with her Legend series. There, a similar quandary of a reverse nature was engineered. Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy later finds out that Girl (indirectly) was responsible for his mother’s death. He still loves her, but both realize they can’t be together. Now, that was a book.

Well, obviously Shazi is battling with the Stockholm Syndrome – a condition worsened by the fact that the Beast is not a beast (physically or otherwise) and handsome as hell to boot. With a tragic past that is often hinted at. With so many secrets. Our Shazi, pleads him to open his door so that she may see what it is that makes him a monster. “I know nothing because you fight me every step of the way”, she says. Again, dead best friend issues are kept on hold. Not even that matters when you realize all killers aren’t the heartless monsters they are generally portrayed as – that have a story too.

And then the "kiss that changes everything" happens.

Khalid is no better off – being the poor, tortured soul that he is. The book has a third person narration and Khalid gets a solitary paragraph written from his perspective, just in time to venerate “the plague of a girl” that is destroying him. I also hate him for deciding to come see Shazi that night and never before for another bride. Had he done this earlier, who knows, he may have fallen in love with another girl and the murders could have stopped way back.

The one thing that nagged at me was the frequency with which Shahrzad’s skills at seduction came into use. I personally despise characters that use sex as a weapon to wound and open up the enemy – I find that weak and underhanded. Not to mention how that strategy would fail would for us poor unglamorous mortals. Although she immediately regrets it afterwards, the fact that she did it was the last straw for me.

The plot of this book is a love story. How Inexplicable Attraction To A Murderer With A Tragic Past can change everything. I don’t mind love being a deux ex machina element in the story – I do believe love has its own magic – but this was a bit too much.
Oh and wait, did I mention a tragic love triangle involved for the sake of?

I would be doing an injustice if I didn’t commend the research that went into the world building, especially the Persian/Urdu words that cropped up like a pleasant surprise. Khorasan is a Persian land and I’ve always had a special fascination for that place ever since I became a fan of Arabian tales. I also do like the other characters – Despina’s sassiness, Jalal’s protectiveness, and another character who I started to really like and had so much scope for development and then gets killed. Three cheers to me.

I am glad though that my resolution to keep calm and carry on reading till the end of the book paid off marginally. I feel like the main plot of the series is just beginning and I like that plot. Not this soppy, messy love story that I had to endure. Usually, in the kind of series that I binge-read, people run for their lives and they fall in love sometime in between. In this one though, they fall in love first and then run for their lives.

VERDICT: 2 stars.

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