Okay, so “Shikaar-baaz” was considerably more intriguing and happening than the last one. There were a lot of surprises and sudden turns which are Nemrah Ahmed’s specialty. This, like the rest, began with a vision Haalim a.k.a Taliya was having about her and Adam being chased by “hunters”. The vision cuts to where the last episode ended, Taliya being recognized by Adam as Tungo Kamil’s former maid.
I still don’t have any clue where all of this is going and I can’t even begin to imagine. The characters of this book are supposedly darker than all of her previous ones. But I’m not sure I understand the depth of Taliya’s struggles, both her inner conflict about wanting to have a clean slate and the circumstances that lead her to become a con. Yes, she was used by her husband for money laundering, yes, she had a troubled childhood but it hardly screams dark and complex to me. I want more of an insight into her history because right now, none of this seems believable to me.
I’ve read characters with far more horrible pasts and when they battle their inner demons and go through the good vs bad dilemma inside their heads, it makes sense. Taliya’s, so far, does not. The conversation she and Datin had on the stairs where Datin summarized their entire criminal career was straight up convenient. Taliya did this and then she did that and then she became an expert and then moved on to something else and mastered that. PFHT, no. I don’t buy it.
Faateh Ramzal was also comparatively less insufferable. He gave straight answers, guys! And once, only once, he went into storytelling mode and it was admittedly very fitting in that situation. He’s still arrogant with that thou-shalt-bow-before-my-high-and-mightiness attitude but like I said, it was tolerable and seemed true to his persona.
Unexpected Things that Had Me Like WOAH:
Taliya and Faateh. Eh? Er…but what about Adam the Pure and Clean?
Taliya got the bracelet. HA! I did not expect that to happen so fast.
Another clairvoyant? So there are more people like her. Interesting, VERY interesting, indeed. I hope this has something do with superhumans descended from aliens from another planet who want to take over Earth and WREAK DESTRUCTION AND DEA—
She got the bracelet but failed to get the painting. I seriously thought she was gonna expose Ashar.
Adam and his ‘noble’ quest to find the ‘truth’ about Taliya. There were so many backflips there.
Something about Taliya’s birthmark. It had to do with hunters, I think? Dude, this is just begging for a super hero story line. PUH-lease let it be one.
Adam and Taliya and the mysterious treasure of Tasha. WHAT? (*whispers*: alien tech treasure, shhh…)
Even thought there are so many tracks diverging from the episode, I feel that this one moved the story forward and was quite eventful. I got apprehensive after reading the second one but this one was really good!
This is my first attempt at doing a blogging tag of any kind and this was kinda cool. However, I was NOT tagged by anyone. But…
2017 has been spectacular so far. I set my yearly Goodreads challenge to 50 books this year which is double last year’s 25. I’ve read 38 books so far and am 76% done with my challenge. I normally get to read about 7 books per month, 10 if I’m really stretching it.
All right, so let’s begin with the sacred process of doing the revered book tag:
Best Book Read So Far in 2017:
Oh man. There are SO many! And not necessarily released this year. They were:
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein
The School For Good and Evil By Soman Chainani
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Nuvel
A Darker Shade of magic by V.E. Schwab
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Dastak Na Do by Altaf Fatima
The underlined ones were awesome. But if I do have to pick one, I’ll pick the Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read and it came out this year.
Best Sequel Read So Far in 2017:
I’ve read three sequels released this year:
Waking Gods (Themis Files #2, sequel to Sleeping Giants)
Windwitch (The Witchlands # 2, sequel to Truthwitch)
The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo # 2, sequel to the Hidden Oracle)
My favorite one would have to be Waking Gods. Ancient alien species invading Earth leading to epic fights between mecha giants. WHAT more could you ask for?
New Release I Haven’t Read But Want To:
The Flame in the Mist is making rounds on Social Media. Being a HUMONGOUS fan of Mulan, naturally I want to check it out.
Most Anticipated Release For the Second-Half of 2017:
Again, so many:
Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
Immortal Reign (Falling Kingdoms # 6) by Morgan Rhodes
Warcorss by Marie Lu
Renegades by Marissa Meyer
The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell
If I have to choose just one, UGH, it would be Immortal Reign. MAGNEO FOREVER!!!
There are a couple books that I didn’t like, to put it mildly, but since the word ‘disappointment’ suggests attached expectations, there is a very clear answer to that question: Wintersong. Like, OH.MY.BEARD.THIS.WAS.SHEEEEEEEET.
A few others I should mention as I had mild expectations about those as well:
Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
RoseBlood by A.G. Howard
Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves
Snow Like Ashes trilogy by Sara Raasch
The Owl Service by Alan Garner
I was pleasantly surprised by the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, those are such wonderful books but sadly, grossly overlooked. As for the biggest surprises of 2017:
Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas
Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
FrostBlood by Ellie Blake
Favorite New Author (Debut or New to Me):
Never gonna pick just one:
Newest Fictional Crush:
Lazlo Strange from Strange the Dreamer and Septimus Heap from the series of the same name. The first one is an adorable bookworm with an imagination and big dreams, the latter is a green-eyed wizard of great power, also adorable.
Favorite New Character:
Vasya from the Bear and the Nightingale
Geeti from Dastak Na Do
Septimus Heap and Marcia Overstrand from the same series
Holland from Shades of Magic
A Book That Made Me Cry:
That depends, tears of sadness or tears of frustration?
For the former, I don’t do the bawling-out-my-eyes cry after reading books. The most I do is a tear at most or a trembling chin or disinterest in life and stuff. This year, I think it was Dastak Na Do, that made me sad enough for those things.
For the latter, I would nominate Our Story Ends Here by Sara Naveed, Wintersong by S.Jae Jones and The Owl Service by Alan Garner, in that order.
A Book That Made Me Happy:
The School For Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. That book is HILARIOUS, yo. I read the entire thing with a huge, goofy smile on my face.
Although, this picture isn’t that cheerful.
Favorite Book-to-Movie Adaptation I Saw This Year:
NONE. As in, there weren’t any that I saw. I’m not sure if Beauty and the Beast counts.
Favorite Review I’ve Written This Year:
This is, by far, the MOST awesome question in this tag. And yes, there actually happens to be one such review. The best reviews are rant reviews, no question about that. Those are the ones where words come pouring out along with a ton of sarcasm, frustration and gifs. I wrote this review back in April for Our Story Ends Here by Sara Naveed, a local Pakistani author. Not only did I love it but judging by the comments received, a whole lot of other people did as well. NOT blowing my own trumpet.
Since it’s in Urdu and was being published in episodes about 7 or 8 years ago, I’m 500% certain that absolutely NO ONE knows what this is. Good, let me enlighten you.
I talked about my childhood reading habits and the books/magazines I turned to when I wasn’t that much aware of English literature two posts back. I mentioned a local newspaper/magazine called Akhbar-e-Jahan? This particular story was published in that magazine and I was enamored by it. It’s a family saga by a writer called Salma Yonus and it ran for 21 weeks. Dil Ka Nagar translates to something like “where the heart lives”.
Anyone who knows anything about our culture knows that we practically inhale family sagas on a daily basis, through our television shows, through our books, it’s what we love and what we are used to. Being at that age, young, and not entirely exposed to the genre I would come to love in the later years (it’s fantasy btw), it was something that I stuck to like a leech and oh, how I enjoyed every second of it! Waiting every week for a new episode was equal parts agony and excitement.
Even though it’s a 400 page book now, I frustratingly did not find it on the Goodreads’ archives. Such is the curse of using that website, you don’t want to read anything you can’t brag about. So I thought, why not write about it here? I’ve been secretly wishing to write about this book for ages.
It’s a tad filmy, with characters dying or changing when it’s convenient and things happening for shock value. I’ll say it again, I LOVED it then and that love is alive even now after years and years. If I had read it now, I most probably would not have liked it that much. Yes, I love family sagas but I like them to unfold with intelligence. Not that this was extremely stupid, but as I skim it now I see that some parts are just too cliched which is always a bad sign. Here’s what I remember:
The book had a Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham -esqued start where Jahanzeb and his family: his wife Mudhat and two grown-up daughters Zoya and Zoobya receive a letter from his estranged parents asking for a reconciliation. Jahanzeb was kicked out of the house for marrying the girl he loved instead of conceding to his father’s wishes and marrying his cousin, Safina. Now, years later, this ‘invitation’ reasonably shocks him but after his wife’s gentle persuasion, he agrees to return.
The have a warm welcome at the Aevaan Palace with all the previous squabbles apparently forgotten as they are accepted into the family once again with open arms. Mudhat is ecstatic. She’s finally found the love and respect she had always wanted from her in-laws.
However, three people are not particularly happy with Jahanzeb’s return; Safina, her nephew Shahdil and Baba Sahab.
Baba Sahab, Jahanzeb’s father, is the patriarch of Aevaan Palace. No decision is made without his royal majesty’s express consent and he is feared and respected as the head of the family. My thoughts on the guy were quite clear then and they remain so until now: he was an egotistical JERK with authority issues and some grand notions of his superiority above the rest. I refused to accept his I’m-so-high-and-mighty-bow-before-me bullshit and I hated how his actions were justified even though they were SO beyond wrong at times. No matter how the writer tried to spin it, he was a horrible, horrible man.
What’s worse is that he never realized the gravity of his arrogant and stupid mistakes. I’m pretty sure Amitabh Bachan’s character either apologized at the end or maybe admitted that he was wrong. Another character like this was seen in the form of Agha Jaan in Dayar-e-Dil and you have to appreciate how absolutely beautiful his arc was. He was ashamed of how harsh he had been and tried hard to rectify his mistakes. Not this guy, though.
So the Palace is home to not only Baba Sahab’s family but also his brother’s family; his brother’s daughter, Safina and his grandson Shahdil. Shahdil’s parents died when he was a kid and he has been brought up by his aunt. Baba Sahab’s family includes his wife, Bi Ji and his six children, three sons including Jahanzeb and three daughters. All are married and have their own grown up kids so you have a really big family with lots of good old melodrama.
Baba Sahab and Safina aren’t happy with his son’s return because of obvious reasons, he is rigid and doesn’t like sacrificing his stupid, nonsensical principles while Safina still carries heartbreak from all those years ago. Shahdil on the other hand holds a grudge on behalf of his beloved aunt and he is the one who shows the most resistance to this new arrival.
Aaah, Shahdil! This tall, dark and handsome (and very angry) young man holds a special place in my heart. You see, long before Jihan Sikandar, Faris Ghazi, Omar Jahangir and all other fictional men I drool over now, there was Shahdil. He was the reason I was always so excited about reading this. He seems to be ill-tempered and rude at first but really, he’s all mush inside. He was, quite honestly, one of my very first fictional crushes.
Zoya and Zoobya are already engaged to be married to their maternal cousins. Zoya and Ibaad are actually married but their parents are waiting for the girls to finish their education for a proper wedding ceremony. And so it is when Zoobya’s fiance secretly marries another and her world is in upheaval when our very own Lord High and Mighty Baba Sahab declares that Ibbad must divorce Zoya as well. His reason? Because he said so, and:
Zoya and Ibaad are devastated and while Zoya resists initially, she too gives up like a typical goody-two shoes bechari while her parents do the same. UGH. Only Zoobya and Ibaad refuse to accept this colossally idiotic pronouncement. Ibaad shows up with a lawyer I think and his father and takes Zoya away from Aevaan Palace without telling her about it first. There is uproar and outrage and Baba Sahab blames Zoya for encouraging Ibaad to do this and promptly breaks all ties with her.
There are other relationship threads in the story but Zoya, Zoobya, Ibaad and Shahdil make the main square so I’m only talking about them. Beware! Things are about to get frustratingly cliched and ridiculous:
Zoya and Ibaad’s marriage is riddled with angst and drama because in the beginning, she can’t stop moaning about how Ibaad took her away from her precious rishtey (family) and when that’s settled, she falls down the stairs while she’s pregnant and, you guessed it, becomes infertile.
Meanwhile, Zoobya and Shahdil are married on the insistence of their parents, no wait, sorry, on the order of Baba Sahab the Formiddable and the two cannot stand the sight of each other. It’s only when Shahdil realizes that his wife is with child that he slowly starts to soften.
Ibaad’s mother pushes him towards a second marriage to her niece. The family line must go on, she says and the men are unable to persuade her to give up.
Ibaad’s new mother-in-law conspires to throw Zoya out of the house and succeeds: she sends her out for medicine when nobody’s home and lies to Ibaad when he comes back about her having run away. Just the poor girl’s luck, it rains and her chappal breaks, HER CHAPPAL FREAKING BREAKS and, cherry on top, Shahdil shows up out of nowhere to drop her home. Ibaad after this brainwashing, takes one look at Zoya with Shahdil at the door and divorces her. LOL.
Zoobya dies in childbirth and Zoya is brought home. Zoya and Shahdil grow close to each other and fall in love. Well, Shahdil technically, had already fallen in love with her ages ago.
Ibaad has an accident and dies.
All the conveniences and absurdities aside, I admit that I had been secretly pining for Zoya and Shahdil and may have figuratively whooped when they got together. Oh, and Baba Sahab? He just had a smug smile plastered on his face, like he knew all this was going to happen and he was right all along. Die, bitch.
Well, that was fun. There are somethings you love unconditionally, no matter how daft or illogical they sometimes are. This book is one such thing for me. But the writing was good, I won’t deny that. It was nice to be able to share about it when previously I couldn’t. One of the many perks of having your very own blog. MUAHAHA.
It’s no secret that I adore green-eyed boy wizards. The two that I know of are not only kind, beloved and charming but also really powerful. One of them is Harry Potter (duh) and the other is Septimus Heap. Oh, and they also have great names.
One introduced me to the other. If you’re suffering from a HP hangover and search for similar books to read, Septimus Heap will likely turn up in the lists the internet will show you. This is exactly what happened to me.
I took my sweet time and didn’t immediately start these books. Even when I did I wasn’t entirely convinced that this was going to be an amazing series. But, you’d be surprised how much commitment and perseverance pays off.
It’s one of the many underrated books which are overshadowed by other over-hyped books. It’s ultimately a fun and light-hearted story and I gladly recommend it to anyone who’ll listen. Here’s what you need to know if you want to give this a go (this overview is spoiler free and I would urge you not to read the official synopsis from anywhere, there are some things that it shouldn’t say but it does):
Name of the series: Septimus Heap Author: Angie Sage (she’s an English author) Number of Books: 7 (Plus two novellas) Book Titles:Magyk, Flyte, Physik, Queste, Syren, Darke, Fyre. The companion books: the Darke Toad and the Magykal Papers. Genre: Juvenile, Middle-grade and Fantasy. (The recommended age group would be about 10-14 but I’m 22 and still I loved it) Year Published: 2005-2013 Average length of each book: 500+ pages General premise: It’s set in the Castle, a walled-in city where magyk and wizards are as common as bread and butter. The Castle always has a Queen, the throne being passed from mother to daughter and an Extraordinary Wizard responsible for the magykal tasks and problems the Castle faces and he/she resides in the Wizard Tower. Among the many residents of the Castle are the Heaps, perhaps the most famous of them all and the most abundant of them all as well. Silas and Sarah Heap have seven children, six boys and a girl. Their seventh son dies shortly after he’s born. Throughout the books we read about the adventures and misadventures of the Heaps as they go missing, go Darke, put the Castle in grave peril and save the Castle from grave peril.
The books are beautifully illustrated by Mark Zug. Every chapter has a cool illustration. There is a map of the Castle and of the entire world in the later books. Even in you didn’t know what these books were about the covers are attractive enough to tempt you to read them.
There are also alternate cover editions which aren’t that awesome compared to the other ones but still nice.
What you can expect:
This is, to its very core, a children’s series. So if you want something that gets eventually darker, you won’t get it here. That’s the problem I faced when I took this up. I wanted it to get dark and mature like Harry Potter but it didn’t. The tone remains light even though there are a few moments here and there that I felt were a bit serious. You’ll get a lot of laughs, silliness and a ton of fun but don’t go into it like I did, comparing it with HP. The books span over 4 years with only a couple of months passing between a few of them so the kids remain kids despite growing.
It’s delightful to say the least. It’s probably inspired from some real life places I’m sure but the world stands on its own and is unique. I am an absolute sucker for elaborate made-up names. For example, the Castle is in the Small, Wet Country Across the Sea. If that isn’t elaborate, I don’t know what is. There are also the Marram Marshes, the Badlands, the Lands of the Long Nights and places like that.
In Syren, when the characters venture out of their territory we get another map and another detailed glimpse into the world of Septimus Heap. The world gets more depth gradually and it’s satisfying for the reader.
The magyk system:
The workings of magic or should I say ‘magyk’ explored in the books are incredibly amusing and creative. There is a great importance of the number 7 in these books as the writer mentions it at the end of the first book. Similarly, the seventh son of the seventh son is said to have great magykal powers. Furthermore, magyk is strongly associated with the colors purple and green which I particularly liked.
The spells, charms, enchantments and incantations aren’t as simple as just uttering a couple of words and pointing your wands. There are NO wands, rather, there is a whole procedure that has to be followed for a spell or a charm to work. First you have to have the charm, which is an object on which the spell is inscribed or placed, then you have to do something specific related to the spell you are performing and then comes the reciting.
Here’s an example of the Cause Yourself to be Unseen charm in the books:
Any of the charms found in the thick paper pocket alongside the “Cause Yourself to Be Unseen” spell found in the book Safety Spells and Unharm Charms for the Use of the Beginner and Those of Simple Mind. Instructions:
Imprint the spell by holding your charm close to you and reciting the words written on the charm:
“Let me fade into the aire,
Let all against me know not where,
Let them that seeke me pass me by,
Let harme not reach me from their eye.”
As you recite, it is important to imagine the spell actually happening. Otherwise, it will not work effectively.*
*The first time you do this spell, it won’t last very long and you’ll reappear in a minute or so. After that, with concentration, the spell should last as long as you need it to. If you are a beginner, keep the charm with you for when you next need to do the spell.
I’ve read a lot of books with magic. Some didn’t bother to go into details, some did and succeeded while some failed spectacularly. I feel like comparing this to Carry On even though that book and everything in it was an unmitigated disaster. That book too employed chanting of poems but instead of creative made-up poems that suited a specific spell, Rainbow Rowell had her characters recite actual nursery rhymes. *shudders*
There are all sorts of beasts and creatures in the books: dragons, boggarts (very, VERY different breed of Boggarts. I repeat: do NOT compare this with HP), cat-men, rat-men, ghosts, land wurms, carnivorous trees, witches (vastly different from wizards which are both male and female), night transformers, foryx, water gnomes, you get the idea.
I’ve said this before, very few years pass through the course of these books so even though the characters grow and learn, they remain kids. It starts when our protagonists are 10 and ends when they are more or less 14. That being said, I ADORED all of them. Even the grown ups are delightful. I’ll give the briefest of introductions as to not spoil anything:
Septimus Heap: He’s the youngest Heap boy and the hero of the story. He has green-eyes, a kind nature and is a darling.
Jenna Heap: The only daughter in the Heap family. She’s headstrong and brave and loves her family dearly. She and Septimus are the same age. Nicko Heap: He, Jenna and Septimus are the closest among the siblings. He is two years older than the two of them. Silas and Sarah Heap: The bumbling but cute parents of the lot. The other Heap boys: Oldest one is Simon Heap and the one older than Nicko is Jo-Jo Heap. Beetle: He’s Septimus’s best friend. He works as a scribe at the Manuscriptorium and is really smart. Wolf Boy: Another one of Septimus’s best friends. He has keen forest senses and an unknown past. Aunt Zelda: She lives at Keeper Cottage in the Marram Marshes and is an accomplished White Witch. She’s actually Silas Heap’s aunt and that makes her the great-aunt of Septimus and his siblings. Marcia Overstrand: Now that’s who I would call an accomplished and powerful woman. You can always expect Marcia to get her own way and get things done. She’s immensely respected in the Castle being the current Extraordinary Wizard at the Wizard Tower. You would come to love Marcia as I did. She’s awesome.
Alther Mella: Marcia’s mentor and the previous Extraordinary Wizard.
There are SO many more characters but these are the ones you should know about. Trust me, you’ll love them too.
The plots of all the seven books are more or less formulaic; things are going fine until little signs start appearing that suggest otherwise, someone gets in trouble, the rest go to save him, narrowly escape danger and come back unscathed, for the most part. That does not mean, however, that it isn’t clever, because IT IS! It’s clever and charming and amazing! There were some parts in it which were downright harrowing. Physik, Queste and Syren get spooky. They gave me the shivers.
My rating: 8/10
Verdict: Tremendous fun!
It pains me to see that there is very little fan art of this series on the internet. It’s practically non-existent! This series deserves more love and appreciation and here’s a humble attempt at giving it that. Please do check it out and recommend it to other people as well. I’ll leave you with this piece of adorableness I found:
P.S: I’ve reviewed the entire series on Goodreads. If you like you can read them here:
The second episode of Haalim was decidedly less impressive than the first one. It was even dull and lackluster, I dare say. The story moves forward right after the events of the first episode; Taliyah and Datin are full in the game, trying to steal the bracelet and coin from Fateh’s wife Asra while we are introduced to two new additions to the story: Adam bin Mohammad, Fateh’s body man and Ashar, his wife’s brother.
The writer gives details about Malaysia and its political environment periodically when the situation demands it and I liked the fact that this was subtle and the details were to the point and quick. There was no heavy info-dumping.
The title of the episode was گھائل غزال (the wounded deer). Unlike the previous episode where the central idea became clear only in the last couple of pages, here it was like being beaten on the head with it. Repeatedly. First, Fateh tells his favorite childhood story about the clever little deer, alluding to his brother-in-law, then Taliyah has one of her precognitive dreams where she’s slaughtering a deer, then she is called one by Datin and there’s the whole thing about a painting also being of the same subject. I mean, jeesh.
The other thing I took issue with was the utter unlikability of the characters especially Fateh Ramzal. The other ones are a bit more defined, as far as what they want in life or what their defining trait is concerned, little complexities and nuances can be developed overtime, I’m sure. But this guy. I just cannot get a read on this dude. He spends 99.99% of the time being either rude or unconcerned while the rest of the world cannot stop gushing about what a good person he is. So far, I’ve seen zero evidence of that. I do not dig his arrogance and I am too smart to talk to other people attitude.
And what is with these long philosophical stories in between dialogues? I admit wholeheartedly that this kind of technique provides an excellent opportunity for the writer to include things she wants which otherwise would be difficult to add anywhere else, but in the middle of a conversation? If a person starts talking in riddles and allusions every time he is asked a straight forward question, that person is a prick who’s too full of himself and he needs to take his head out of his ass. The High and Mighty Fateh Ramzal talks entirely through childhood stories and tales trying to sound like the wisest baba this world has ever seen. Three times he did this. THREE TIMES.
Taliyah and Datin pursued their target relentlessly and although their scenes could have been full of fun, they weren’t. The entire episode was unmistakably boring. Things picked up only at the very end when Taliyah got recognized by Adam and before that, when Asra’s bracelet heated up at Taliyah’s touch. This mysterious supernatural element is by far the only interesting part of the episode. I wonder how it will play out.
Taliyah’s dream now showed another person, that makes three of them; Taliyah, Fateh and Adam. Their lives are inexplicably intertwined. What I want to know most of all is which of the two men will end up with Taliyah. I worry about bigger things, you know?
My anticipation and eagerness for the rest of the book has, by no means, been diminished. I understand that this is the earliest of stages and we still have a long way to go.
So my theory about Taliyah being Fateh’s daughter was proved wrong at the very beginning of this episode. But still, another missing daughter incident? Fishy.
Datin was seen taking a picture of Taliyah’s birthmark and doing research on it without her knowledge. Birthmarks, clairvoyance, mysterious keys… Curiouser and curiouser.
Or rather, Conniving the Dreamer but let’s just stick with Strange for this review. I’ll get to it in a sec.
Presenting, Haalim; ‘the dreamer‘ , Nemrah Ahmed’s latest attempt at driving us nuts, giving us intense FEELS, breaking our hearts and crushing our very souls into infinitesimal pieces. Keep doing it Nemrah, we’re not complaining.
The first episode is titled “گدلے پانيوں کا سنگم” (the Confluence of Murky Waters) and as all first episodes must, it gives us a nice, clear introduction and a glimpse of what we are getting into and what we should or shouldn’t expect.
The premise is ambitious, that is all I can decipher at this point. I had mixed to positive feelings about this beginning chapter. Probably because it felt, like her other famous books, a mystery novel. I generally don’t do well with mysteries but who am I kidding? It’s Nemrah Ahmed! I would read her grocery list if I have to. SIGN ME UP.
I had been itching to make a connection between Laini Taylor’s “Strange the Dreamer” as soon as I found out what Haalim actually meant. To my surprise, the title isn’t the only thing the two books have in common! Both Lazlo Strange and Haalim‘s protagonist, besides being dreamers, share another similarity; both were ‘left’ at someone else’s doorstep; they grew up as orphans, not knowing who or where their parents were.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into it.
The episode started, with what seemed to me, a poem, much like it did with Naml. As I was just about to be seriously annoyed, it turned out to be a dream our protagonist Haalim was having. Oh, yeah. Get used to the word ’cause it’s gonna show up a LOT. The narrative then switched to describing the setting which, amazingly, is Kuala Lampur, the capital of Malaysia. I naturally know nothing of Malaysia except that it is a gorgeous country. There used to be a lot of ‘Malaysia truly Asia‘ on the television when I was growing up, though. I digress.
This is definitely a plus in my opinion. Getting to read about a culture you know virtually nothing of is exciting and a learning experience. I’m looking forward to it.
Within 5 pages we are told that our protagonist is a Scam Investigator and we hear our dear mysterious Haalim utter his first beautiful words:
ميں سوچ ہی رہا تھا کہ ميری صبح خوشگوار کيوں گزر رہی ہے۔ کوئ نحوست کيوں نہيں گھل رہی اس ميں؟ فون کرنے کا شکريہ موليا۔ اب بتاؤ کيا کام ہے؟
(I was wondering why I was having such a pleasant morning. Why wasn’t it turning out to be cursed? Thanks for calling, Muliya. Now tell me what you want.)
Such attitude! Such sass! I was like WOOT WOOT, lookey here. Aren’t you positively nasty, Dear Sir. I LOVE YOU ALREADY!
Trust Nemrah to pop your fantasy bubble so viciously. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming but I wasn’t expecting to be hoodwinked so soon. My bad. Halfway through the episode, it was revealed to my immense shock that Haalim was not a Scam Investigator but a Scam Artist and he, in fact, wasn’t a he at all but a she.
I was like DAAAAAAAAYUMMMMM.
Ah, well. It was good while it lasted.
Meet Taliya Murad, alias Haalim, a 28 year old woman who cons people for a living and she loves it. Her memories start from the age of 11, when she was found wandering in a church and then sent to the orphanage from where she was adopted by a Kashmiri couple and spent the next decade of her life being their servant. Being forced to steal and lie to get what she wanted from her foster parents and then later used as a courier girl for money laundering for the man she was forcibly married to, teaches her a valuable lesson; she must steal what she wants else no one is going to give it to her. 7 years later, she’s part of a two women heist gang, successfully pulling off one job after the other while maintaining her cover as the arrogant and cheeky Haalim.
But that’s not even the fun part. The fun part is; she’s clairvoyant, she has visions of the future. Whatever she sees comes true or whatever is going to happen her visions warn her in advance. I mean…WHAT? Remember I said the premise was ambitious? THE GIRL HAS A FREAKING SUPERPOWER.
I liked her. Even though she gave me slight Mary Sue vibes, I respected her for her refusal to justify her crimes.
Obviously the book is going to revolve around the concept of dreams and ambitions, what it means to be a dreamer and what are the repercussions a dreamer can face.
“Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.” (Oscar Wilde)
So what is our notorious heroine’s ambition? What is her big dream? This:
I kid you not. That is exactly what she plans to do. Pull off one last epic scam and then retire to a palace on an island. A typical thief fantasy but big all the same. As the episode progresses, she discerns what this last scam is going to be: stealing a coin and a bracelet, the two pieces that make a mysterious key. The same key she sees in her latest vision. Then there’s the matter of what else she saw in her vision; a tall, handsome stranger who keeps offering her the key with the cryptic “stay with me”. The man, apparently, turns out to be none other than Faateh Ramzal, the next Vice President of the nation. The episode ends with Taliya declaring to her partner that the next scam they’re going to be pulling off would be on the house of the future Vice President.
The thing that sticks out and makes all of this so much interesting is the superhuman element. Things such as this are never attempted in our literature, at least contemporary Urdu literature and while this makes me excited, it also makes me a little apprehensive. How is she going to pull that off? The fact that Taliya saw the two pieces in all her big visions that lead to her successful con jobs indicates that this’ll be a major plot point and thus will be shrouded in mystery for a while at least.
There are very few characters in this introductory episode besides Taliya and none of them stood out to me. Not even the allegedly great Faateh Ramzal. Acceptance of greatness demands proof and we haven’t had that yet.
At the beginning when Haalim gave Muliya the profiles of all the servants of Tangu Kamil and Muliya was reading Taliya’s profile, I immediately found something off about Haalim’s assessment. It felt too personal like he knew her somehow. Nice one, Nemrah. Of course, I started fantasizing about the two of them being together in the future.
Taliya’s partner-in-crime, whose actual name I forgot but is called Datin by her, it was very hard for me to imagine a grandma-aged woman doing research and tracking. Our grandmothers here knit and complain of arthritis. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that and it’s kind of what I’m used to when it comes to old women in Urdu novels.
Who, oh, who is going to be Taliya’s hero? Forget the rest, THIS is what matters. Ehehehe.
It better not be that vice president dude because a) he’s already married with kids b) he’s ancient, like 48 and c) he might be Taliya’s father. That is just an assumption and I maybe wrong but I found it weird and annoying how he and his wife “lost their young daughter years ago and never found her”. Gee, I wonder. Taliya’s last name is Murad and his name is definitely not Murad as of this moment. I’m still not discarding that theory completely though.
Taliya was ill-treated by her adoptive parents and while this explanation alone works fine, I would like to go back into her past a little more. Who knows? Maybe we will.
I know I’ve said this about a gazillion times already but how can the concept of superpowers work in a religious context? The religion being Islam.
It’s too early to form an opinion about the book, there is much to be discovered and much to be explored. I thought this was a decent episode and I’m looking forward to reading where Haalim’s dreams take her.