Hello and welcome! Today’s is a fully-packed issue. Settle down, for there’s a lot to see. I’m introducing authors Shamila Ghyas and Humeira Kazmi, their very enjoyable YA book Aoife and Demon: Cursed by the Syhlain, we have an excerpt for you, I’ve written a review, and a fantastic question and answer session with both authors. And they are such wonderful people to talk to. Their personalities certainly shine through in their book. Just wanted to let you know.
As far back as I can remember, the two most consistent companions in my life have been Nutella and books.
I read everything I can get my hands on but my favorite genre has always been fantasy. I must say I have to thank Enid Blyton for that. At age 7, I got the chance to read Faraway Tree and I was hooked.
So much so, that for an English Assignment later on in Grade 7, I wrote a story in lines of my favorite genre. I still remember my teacher’s words; “Shamila, your imagination is all over the place and is a bit out of control.” So that was that! The thought of writing never even crossed my mind again and I continued to devour one book after another, much to the annoyance of my mother who did not approve of me reading over eating.
Life went on: education, marriage, family till the day I got to know Humeira who motivated me into writing again.
And so, here we are: Imagination still out of control and a book we have really enjoyed writing.
I really hope that everyone who reads it loves it as much as we do. Since that will give us the excuse to finish up the series by writing part 2 🙂
I was in grade 7 and bunking PE when I read Tolkien’s Two Towers from the LOTR trilogy.
I know what you’re thinking. Certified nerd! I remember what I was thinking. Where had this book been all my life?!
I loved it. I can’t recall the scenes I’d read then but I remember how transfixing Tolkien’s Middle Earth was. I instantly wanted to write something like it.
But such dreams are easily forgotten in the wake of building a real career.
I went ahead and enrolled in a business college and did my MBA with tinselly rainbow colors making a tiara out of my nerd cap. It was a good day. And it was a good year at the bank. But the best time was when I landed at an ad agency’s creative department to write jingles and slogans and slaughter both my languages (Urdu and English) in the process. I learned a lot there. I wrote a lot there. And I became apt in the art of killing my own brainchildren a.k.a self-editing.
Then, I got married. Moved to the United States and started a family.
For two years I was a good stay-at-home mom. Then, I thought I could be good at something else too. I couldn’t decide on what exactly till I stumbled upon my old diary – a leftover from my baby and teen years. I read all the poems and stories I’d written therein; ranging from an ode to Mom to a soul searching monologue. I realized I wasn’t bad. If I worked on my talent I could turn it into a skill. And perhaps be able to write like the numerous authors who’d inspired me for years. A lost afternoon in the school library from so long ago made its way into my present and I remembered the perfect Legolas. I remembered the imperfect Quasimodo, the roguish Rhett Butler and the ruthless Rory Frost too.
Suddenly, I wanted to create such characters and write their stories instilled with M. M. Kaye like descriptions and Crichton like research and Grisham like authenticity all tied together with intense moods borrowed from Victoria Holt. Tolkien’s magic dust and King’s dark secrets would just be the cherry and powdered sugar on top.
I enrolled in a writing program immediately and earned my diploma. Next I wrote and edited for a newbie magazine. Wrote two children’s books and put them both up for sale on www.lulu.com (5 Kids and 5 Snowmen and Boondon Ka Khel: The Playful Game of the Tiny Water Droplets).
And now it’s Aoife and Demon.
It’s taken me a little less than four decades to realize that dream. And I am not alone in this. I have Shami to cheer by my side as this was her dream too. Aoife and Demon is our first novel. We are both proud and scared at this delicate turn in our writing lives but eager to take the plunge.
We hope you celebrate it with us!
AOIFE AND DEMON: CURSED BY THE SYHLAIN
Aoife Edwards is a college freshman, oppressed by her power-hungry stepmom who now controls her father’s fortune and sees her as a marketable commodity. All she wants to do is skate, but when a strange, blue-skinned man drops into her life and opens a door into both her hidden past and an alternate universe full of dangers, Aoife finds herself face to face with a true, bad-to-the-bone Demon, and suddenly the meanings of friend and foe are no longer so clear.
Chapter Six: NOT A CHANCE, PUMPKIN
The walls of the aquarium looked spooky now that I was aware of the supernatural state of my host.
I answered all his questions like a robot. What did Azure look like? He wanted to make sure I was talking about the same person he was asking about. How did I get here? It wasn’t possible for a common Earthling to travel across the veils of universe into the Realm. Why did Azure give me the pearl? What did he say when he –
“Stop!” I cut in. “My head is spinning from all your queries. What are you, the FBI? If you know the guy, why not just ask him?”
“Where is that pearl he gave you?” He glared at me.
I handed him the necklace. He looked at the cuboid and frowned.
“This isn’t the Pearl.” He closed it in his fist. Smoke rose from his closed fist and when he opened it, a luminous blue mound of ash lay in his palm. Amidst that ash was a glistening red pearl, the size of a big cherry.
“Very ingenious.” He raised an eyebrow.
“How did you do that?” I stared. “What was that smoke? And this ash is sparkly!”
“I don’t understand.” He frowned. “Why would Azure send you here? You’re of no use to me.”
Why, the nerve of that jerk! If only the pearl wasn’t useful for just one night, I could’ve gone home long ago!
“Ask him, not me.” I frowned. “And while you’re at it, have him send me home where I am of use to everyone!”
“Not a chance, pumpkin.” He smiled roguishly. “I’m not sending you anywhere.”
I opened my mouth to remind him that I was of no use to him but he had already focused his attention elsewhere. He raised a hand and tapped the wall behind him three times with his knuckles. A huge wave surged within that wall. It came crashing into the room and vomited a blue manlike figure after which it receded back into the wall.
The blue figure moved. It was a man indeed; all naked except for a brownish loincloth tied expertly from his waist to the middle of his thighs. He hunched over on all fours while he tried to get up, coughing and gagging and dripping wet.
“Aoife, I trust you two have met?” Demon spoke to me though his fierce gaze was fixed on the newcomer.
“Azure?” I whispered. “He’s blue! He’s really truly all blue!” So it wasn’t body paint after all.
Azure was up on his feet by now and was wiping off water from his face, gasping to catch his breath.
“Can’t you summon me the traditional way?” He glared at Demon. “I hate your ocean, Dee. With all due respect.”
“With all due respect, Noble Phromaz,” Demon said curtly. “Any particular reason why there’s an Earth-girl in my castle?”
Azure looked at me and smiled kindly. “She is a sight for sore eyes, isn’t she?”
“Yes, that’s as far as it goes anyway.” Demon looked at me briefly – just to make my blood boil of course – and then back at Azure. “Who is she?”
“Uhm – you see,” Azure scratched his head. “I – uh – I saw Arela, Aoibheann rather, pursuing this girl so I just thought it would be best to bring her here – y’know –” he paused to clear his throat. “Get ahead of the enemy even when – you really don’t know what the enemy is up to.”
“Smart!” Demon gave Azure a chilling smile. “But you must have some idea why the Ducimus were pursuing her? And without her knowledge too, I presume?”
“Er – yeah, that part is a bit hazy – I mean I don’t know why they’re after her.”
“You told her I couldn’t be informed of her coming because I wouldn’t understand.” This time, Demon growled, his eyes glowing like soft flames. “What wouldn’t I understand, Azure? Who is she? Tell me!”
“Okay, I’ll say it.” Azure raised both hands, palm out. “But remember you can’t kill me, I’m immortal so please don’t, don’t try.” He took a deep breath. “She is – this girl right here, this Aoife – is a – Sy – lehnfff.” His voice trailed off, blurring the last words.
“Excuse me?” Demon frowned.
Azure gulped and said quickly in one breath, “Aoifeisasyhlain!”
“Slowly!” Demon commanded.
This time Azure drew in a huge breath, squared his shoulders and said slowly, “Aoife. Is. A. Syhlain.”
For a second Demon was stunned. “WHAT?” he barked. “How do you know?”
“There’s a – there’s a red crescent on her thigh.” Azure pointed to my thigh.
Something in my brain gripped my heart fiercely and told me to get up and run. I couldn’t run but I stood up instantly as Demon charged towards me. Before I could react, he grabbed my leg and ripped my snug leather pants right above my right thigh. There, shining like a red ruby was my crescent!
“You bastard!” I swung a hand to slap him but he gripped it absently and stared at the mark.
“This could be a tattoo.” He spoke through clenched teeth.
“It’s not a tattoo!” I yelled at him. “It’s my birthmark!”
“Oh, really?” He gave me a vicious look and then, quick as a flash, grabbed my neck and kissed me full on the mouth.
My crescent burned hot as fire and pain shot through my body as if I was being stabbed with shards of glass. By the time he let go I was near unconscious with pain and lack of air. He dumped me back on the aquatic floor and curiously looked at my birthmark that was now red as blood and glowing like fire.
“This can’t be.” His hands flew to his head. “You pulled my hair!”
“You bloody bastard!” I screamed as warm tears welled up in my eyes. “Your bloody blue man told me to! If I’d known better I would’ve ripped your entire head off instead of just a strand of hair!”
Demon’s mouth fell open slightly. He turned to Azure. “You did what?”
“Now Dee,” Azure said, slowly edging away from his Master. “You know I wouldn’t do anything wrong. Don’t give me that look, Dee. I’m immortal, you cannot kill me!”
“You told her to do this!” Demon growled at him. “Kha’in!”
“I can explain!”
”Not in the mood!” Demon snapped his fingers.
Azure shrieked as the water floor beneath him broke and a huge white shark lunged for him. Azure jumped in air to escape the mighty jaws and, in an incredible moment, transformed into a bird.
I jumped up and stared at him with my mouth open like a tent flap.
“Aren’t shape shifters entertaining?” Demon watched Azure hover above the shark’s snapping jaws with a wicked glint in his eyes.
Azure, now a small blue colored bird, was flapping all over the place to escape the giant shark. There was little space for him to fly as he couldn’t break through the watery walls. Just then, another shark lunged through from the side and swallowed the poor bird.
I turned to Demon. “What are you doing? Let him go!”
“Shut up!” He barked. “You’ve no idea about the mess you’ve created!”
“Then deal with me!” I cried.
Demon looked away from me without answering and walked over to the shark that had swallowed Azure. The beast wasn’t swimming anymore. It was half way above water in a vertical position – like a dolphin standing on its tail fin. It was completely motionless, seemingly dead. Demon kneeled beside the shark’s belly and knocked. It sounded as if he was tapping on glass.
“How’s it going in there?” he asked.
Nobody spoke. But I saw someone rub the inside of the belly, like you would a smoky window in winter, and draw an unhappy face – two circles for the eyes and an inverted smile.
“Serves you right,” Demon said.
This time Azure rubbed off most of the smoky inside of the shark’s belly so that we could see him now.
“The stench is killing me!” He cried. His voice seemed to be coming from a cave, like a distant echo.
“But you’re immortal, you cannot die.” Demon mocked him.
“That’s what worries me!” Azure pinched his nose with a thumb and forefinger.
“You better start explaining yourself Phromaz before I think of something else to throw you into.” Demon’s voice was cold.
“I swear Dee I did see Aoibheann following Aoife. For three days! It was only a matter of time before she got to her and we would’ve been in a huge mess!”
“Then you should’ve killed her,” Demon suggested calmly.
“No, I meant Aoife but that doesn’t sound bad either.” Demon looked at me thoughtfully. “You should’ve killed them both.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You want to kill me?”
“Not anymore.” He shrugged his shoulders. “It won’t serve any purpose.”
“It wouldn’t have served any purpose before.” Azure echoed from inside the fish. “She’s more useful to us alive than dead.”
“You don’t get to make that decision!” Demon banged his fist against the shark’s belly. The impact sent Azure tumbling, inside the shark.
But he was a hard cookie, that Azure. As soon as he steadied, he was back with his don’t-give-up attitude. He rubbed his head and frowned. “May I remind you, Demon King, that as your minister I do have authority to decide on your behalf. Aoife is our savior.”
“Your savior just ruined my life!” Demon fumed.
“Glad to hear it, although what it means I don’t know!” I said.
“It means you ruined my life.” He looked at me briefly and then glared at Azure. “And you put her up to it!”
“And it’s great!” Azure jumped up and down in jubilation. “Now she’s bound to help you. Now you train her and unleash her on Arela’s armies!”
“Excuse me?” I didn’t like the sound of that.
“Why did you do it, Azure?” Demon’s tone was suddenly soft but firm. He didn’t look happy at all.
“You know why.” Azure sighed. “I just wanted to help.”
Demon shook his head and stood up. His face was grim and his eyes burned a sinister shade of teal. If dark anger could be personified, it’d be him.
“Bad call, Phromaz,” he said. “Enjoy prison!”
Then with a snap of his fingers, the stationary shark came back to life and dived into the depths of the ocean below with Azure still trapped in its now-opaque belly.
This fantasy YA novel was a great surprise. I honestly did not expect to enjoy it so much. At times, it was near impossible to put it down. The authors must have very similar styles, because there is not the slightest trace of difference in the style, pace or vocabulary all the way through. Not an easy task, and one extra obstacle to achieving a high quality, cohesive read.
The storyline is highly imaginative. The authors have picked up the main elements of YA novel writing and have skillfully turned them into something much better. The descriptions are very good, the characters brilliant. I fell in love with each of them as they were introduced to me, and I wished I could be part of their lives. The dialogues are so clever, so fresh! Pure genius at times. So fitting of teen behaviour and also of an intelligent audience.
The pace built up and we soon discovered our characters were in a bit more trouble than they originally thought. I guess at this point, a decision had to be made: cram everything in one book and have it grow to an unrealistic size or split the story and make it into a series. As a result, there is a slight dip in the middle, and the ending isn’t completely solving the problem posed in chapter one, but the read was so enjoyable, I didn’t really mind it. I just want to get my hands on book two and see what happens next.
An almost perfect read for anyone who likes a light-hearted story which is full of adventure and inspired twists, Aoife and Demon: Cursed by the Syhlain is well deserving of 4.5 stars. I almost gave it 5 stars – it was so close! Read it. You’ll enjoy it. Very different, bouncy, original, happy book.
10 Quick-Fire Questions with Shamila Ghyas
1) First book you read for pleasure last year? Was it good?
I don’t remember which book exactly but it was one from the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries (series) by Charlaine Harris. And yes, it was definitely very good.
2) First thing you’d say on a date with your favourite author? Do you get star-struck?
Both my favorite authors are no longer living so my first comment would be “Ye Gaaaads, you are alive! ZOMBIE!” Jokes apart, my first comment would definitely be regarding their writing habits; how they go about it.
Star struck? No, not really.
3) First thing to do on your last day on Earth? Would you like to see it?
Since it is the last day, I will forgo sleep and ahem… start the day with chocolates. Eating healthy would not really be on my to do list that day.
See that day? No, I wouldn’t. If people knew about tomorrow, the whole of today would be spent wasting thinking about it.
4) First thing you’d pack before an interstellar trip? If you could choose, where would you go?
I’d pack a fully charged camera and as Alpha Centauri is the closest at 4.3 light years, start with that.
5) First plot twist idea that shot through your mind this week? Is it to do with the sequel to Aoife and Demon?
Actually, something did cross my mind regarding the end of the book and it has to do with giants. Shhh.
6) Best chat-up line you never heard? And one you did?
Are there are any good chat up lines? Really? Recite poetry. No one does that anymore. Worst? Hmm.. it was on Facebook; ‘hello miss, I want ‘FrAnship’ with you.’ Followed by a creepy photograph.
7) Best thing about being a published author? And what’s it like being a co-author?
The best thing about being an author is that generally people make the assumption that you must be reeeaally smart. Good way to fool people. Just write a book! It’s great being a co-author, Humi is great and we make a very good team.
8) Best thing to do on holiday? Where would you go?
Depends what kind of holiday it is. There are some places where you just want to sit back, relax, read and enjoy the weather. Others; where you go sightseeing.
I would love to go to Rome. Ancient structures with history interest me a lot.
9) Best character trait that makes an author successful? Do you possess it?
Best character trait would be to not lose focus when writing. No, I don’t possess it as I get distracted very easily. Luckily, Humi is there to pull me right back with a not so gentle reminder “WRITE!”
10) Best advice you ever received? Did you follow it?
My brother gave it to me when I was writing the book. To be honest, no one took the idea of me writing too seriously and I don’t think they thought it would get this far even. I had my moments of doubt too. But I did listen to him when he told me to just do what I want to do, and go for it. Just go ahead with it. No regrets. And yes, I did follow it.
And 10 more with Humeira Kazmi
1) Last book you read for pleasure last year? Was it good?
Sophie Kinsella’s I’ve Got Your Number. Loved it!
2) Last thing you’d say on a date with your favorite author?
Do you get star-struck?
Not yet 😉
3) Last thing to do on your last day on Earth?
Sleep cozy in my warm bed. I’d want to wake up over there looking rested.
Would you like to see it?
See myself die or the afterlife? I believe in both so I’ll see both I guess.
4) Last thing you’d pack before an interstellar trip? If you could choose, where would you go?
The moon, of course. And then I’ll plan for the next stop as I enjoy the Earthrise in all its infinite beauty and such.
5) Last plot twist idea that shot through your mind this week? Is it to do with the sequel to Aoife and Demon?
Yes, it actually was the A&D sequel. I was planning to make life more miserable for Demon.
6) Worst chat-up line you never heard?
“Hey Sunflower! I’m the Sun!” – Yes, it’s an actual line. My friend had it thrown at her because she wore a sunflower print one time. But that’s not the bad news. The bad news is it worked!
And one you did?
How many am I allowed to quote here? 😀
Ok this one still creeps me out – “You’re pretty. I’m lonely. Let’s be friends.” I actually got this as a note once and the mere lack of strength of the person to come say it to my face made it outright bile inducing.
7) Worst thing about being a published author?
You’re forever anxious to know how your latest book (read baby) is doing out there on its own.
And what’s it like being a co-author?
I’ve just had this one experience and it’s been great. But I don’t think I can co-author with anyone else as easily as I did with Shami because it’s just as stressful as it is fun. If you’re not working on the same wave length even when you’re disagreeing, it simply won’t work.
8) Worst thing to do on holiday?
Watch football (or any sport) on PPV. I mean – come on!
Where would you go?
9) Worst character trait that makes an author successful? Do you possess it?
Being strong enough to shut out all life outside of the book you’re planning. This includes your family, your friends and even yourself at times. I do possess it but I also believe it should be tamed especially if you have a young family as mine and love to help it grow. So, I time my writing and it’s working fine for me for now.
10) Worst advice you ever received? Did you follow it?
“Write when you’re free.”
Yeah well…there is no such thing as a homemaker or a mother having free time on her hands. Like any other job in the universe, writing is now or never for us so if you’re one of us and want to be a writer as well – go write! Even if it’s an hour a day.
Finally, here are some links to sites where you can follow the authors and get updates on this amazing book: