Member Reviews

I finished this book. That's important to note. I *am* capable of DNF-ing a book -- as evidenced by the fact that there are 27 books in my Currently Reading List -- usually because I find the book boring (and sometimes because life just gets in the way, and it's not compelling enough to return to).

So the fact that I finished this book is a testament to the premise: I was intrigued enough to request an ARC from NetGalley, and I was hoping for a lush, rich fantasy that I could just lose myself in. And, to be fair, it was lush and rich, but I just couldn't get absorbed in it -- I would pause every few pages asking questions (to my dog who, sadly, couldn't provide any answers) and venting my confusion. I just get so frustrated when I want a book to be so. damn. good and it doesn't deliver. Because, ultimately, there were just a few major things that I couldn't get past:

- First and foremost, I *cannot* abide by this troubling "suffering-is-strength" premise. There's a passage about a 1/3 of the way through the book:
"Amira went through even more [rape, torture] than I did,” Kali continues. “She resents you for it—which is her problem entirely, not yours. But you need to also start toughening up.”
Then, a few pages later, Gul concedes that she hasn't suffered enough which...I can't. She's not a particularly round or likable character, but the girl did watch her parents get murdered. If that's not suffering...if suffering is deemed "physical violence" or "violation," I don't know what the message is supposed to be.
Add in the Flesh Market and this cage fighting...the violence just seems like a sensationalized plot device, rather than any sort of weightier commentary -- and one which doesn't do existing stereotypes of exotic-but-barbaric Middle Eastern lands any help.

- Another thing I just can't get over is the world. It's a richly detailed world, don't get me wrong, but as fantasy worlds go, it's...not tightly built.
For example: one of the basic premises of this world is that there are people WITH magic (magi) and people WITHOUT (non-magi). The basic rules of magic -- how it works, what types there are, what determines whether a person has it or not -- seem largely irrelevant to the story, and Bhathena doesn't seem interested in them. If it's convenient for a character to have (or not have) magic, so be it. Their type of magic also seems a matter of plot convenience. Apparently there is life magic, death magic, and earth magic? Maybe more? I don't know?
But if it's hereditary -- and it seems to be? I don't actually know, because it's not a matter of concern -- then why are any of the magi lower-class? If a person has a strong magic, why are they a servant, or a slave? Because if the prejudice against non-magi is so strong, then why aren't they in the positions of servitude? Isn't it dangerous to have a powerful magi as a servant? Couldn't they attack you? Obviously those sorts of power structures are wrong, but in the world that Bhathena has created, they seem like fair questions. I know that a well-built world is a pet-peeve of mine with fantasy works, but if the world isn't solidly and tightly built, I find myself getting distracted by those questions rather than following the plot. Because if they're not integral to the story, why even make it a fantasy? Why not just make it a medieval historical fiction, with the typical class divide of rich and poor?
Near the end, Gul thinks, "Magic doesn't work the same way for everyone." and that line just seems to sum up Bhathena's approach to magic in this story. Which is fine, but it just doesn't make for strong fantasy, IMHO.

- The plot seems to revolve around big moments of contrived action. Chapters can be spent in daily life events and then BAM! Plot point! Gul trains with Amira -- there's exposition! and minimal action! Then BAM! She decides to run away and sell herself at the Flesh Market. BAM! She crosses the rekha and is caught and is branded a trespasser! The action doesn't flow naturally or smoothly -- it seems to be linked by big contrived moments.
Hardest thing for me to deal with: the Raj impulsively (I get that it's supposed to be a calculated move, but...c'mon.) betroths his ELDEST SON AND HEIR TO A SERVING GIRL. No. I just can't. Why would he do this?! Politically, it makes no sense. Even though we don't see any of them, there have to be courtiers, rich families, politicans, landowners, merchants who sell something that keep this economy going. And royal marriages are political alliances. There is no way that any King would marry his heir to a serving girl just to make some half-baked point. Because she'd be the First Wife, which is always a big deal. I can see the King marrying her, maybe, as his Fourth wife. Sure. Giving her to his son as a concubine, sure. Maybe even marrying her off to one of his younger sons, because they're not going to rule, so what does it matter who they marry -- especially since one of them seems halfway decent. But it was all so convenient -- especially when said youngest son came in all, "Look! There's this obscure ancient law no one's heard of that says you can challenge the king to a death duel to protest you being engaged to some guy you don't want to marry!" WUT.

- I also don't...understand (?) these characters.
Everyone reacts out of strong, negative emotions: usually anger, defiance, etc. Tempers flare, there are misunderstandings...which makes it very difficult to connect with characters and care about them. There are very few moments of actual kindness, and even fewer where characters just talk, calmly and neutrally. Everything seems to be an argument or a fight, and by the end, it just has the result of making the characters seem flat and one-dimensional. Especially Shayla -- there's a strong arc potential there -- even for a complex villain like Regina in OUAT, but when we finally get her POV near the end, it just seems like a soap opera villain.
[Full Review available on GoodReads]

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This is a fantasy adventure novel set in medieval India with complex characters, vengeance, and a touch of romance. Bhathena paints a lush fantasy world that is easy to picture in your imagination. I enjoyed it, especially the sisterhood and magical aspects. The little princess was one of my favorite characters. I hope in the next installment she has a bigger role. I liked the differing magical abilities in the story.

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*This review is based on an uncorrected advanced proof provided by NetGalley and the publisher.*

4/5 stars

Gul is a young teen when her parents are murdered for keeping a secret. They die protecting her from the king's army, who are looking for any woman or girl who bears a star birthmark. Gul is forced to flee from her home and seeks safety with a mysterious group of women, The Sisterhood of the Golden Lotus. Two years later, her only goal is to infiltrate the Raj Mahal and exact revenge on the king and the leader of his Sky Warriors. Chance brings her together with Cavas, a young man who works in the palace stables. Cavas is just trying to get by and nurse his ailing father back to health, but his plans are derailed when Gul crashes into his life. Together, they must unravel the mysteries of the Star Warrior and uncover what strength lies within each of them. The road is bumpy, but the fate of a kingdom rests on their shoulders.

The world Tanaz Bhathena has built is extraordinarily rich and tactile, achieving what many YA novels cannot in their limited space. Based in medieval Indian and Persian myth, the land of Ambar is awash in luscious food, brilliant colors, and sumptuous dress. The author has even gone to the great, appreciated lengths of putting a glossary of terms at the end of the book, which notes which words the book shares in common with our world, and which words have different meaning in the context of the novel. Readers who are unfamiliar with the dress and cuisine represented here will want to have their phones or computers ready so they can look up pictures and enjoy the beauty the author describes. I felt I could see, taste, and smell every environment the author conjured.

I very much enjoyed the overall plot and storyline of this novel and am looking forward to the next installment. The pacing was good and the action felt real and earned. The world was fully fleshed-out and had no problems dictating the rules surrounding the different magic the characters use. I hope to see more of the inhabitants of other countries of former Svapnalok, including the Pashu, who are part animal, part human. The author has a rich land and internal mythology to explore in future books, and I am looking forward to reading more from them.

The one criticism I had for this book were the voices of the two main characters. There were times that I was unsure whose point of view I was in, and the only way I could distinguish was to see which characters or situations were present around the point of view character. This problem was mainly relevant in the first few pages of a chapter, and some sections of the book did not suffer from this problem as much as others. In my opinion, the main characters did not have different enough voices to make me believe in both of them as much as I believed in the rest of the story. However, I am very interested to see where the story goes and will certainly be rooting for this book and looking out for the next one.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read with a beautiful world and vibrant society. I would recommend this book for YA readers looking to find non-western fantasy, as well as readers who may have rarely seen themselves centered in an epic story. A wonderful addition to any collection.

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Setting the book in India provided an interesting backdrop for this magical story and gave the author opportunities to share Indian culture with the readers; however the story itself was fairly formulaic - girl with powers needs to avenge ________________________ (insert loved one here) while fighting an attraction to a boy who then helps her with her mission. I had a difficult time connecting to the characters, but the book really picks up about halfway through as Gul becomes involved in a scheme to overthrow the king, Overall, I enjoyed the book when I was reading it, and will be reading the sequel, but I didn't feel drawn to it in an "I can't put this down" way.

Thank you, NetGalley, for the ARC.

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The "chosen one" is a trope that is popular in ya literature, but there's a reason for that. Everyone wants to feel special. Everyone wants to believe that they have a purpose and a place in the world. When the trope is used well, it can empower the reader to believe in those concepts. Tanaz Bhathena does just that.

The story of Gul gives you a strong protagonist who is willing to question authority, who seeks to understand why the world is as it is, and who tries to change it when she feels it has gone wrong. In a land of magic and myth, Gul posesses a mark on her arm which could make her the girl of the prophecy. The one who will overthrow the evil regime and bring back peace and prosperity to her land. That mark also makes her a target, and her parents are killed before her very eyes because of it. Taken in by a group of female rebels, she learns to fight and control her considerable magical powers. She utilizes her skills to infiltrate the royal court so that she can kill the two people she believes responsible for her parents death.

This could've been very one-dimensional, but Bhathena takes Gul's revenge story and wraps it with her growth. Through the people she meets along the way, those who she has to trust at times with her life, she learns understanding, she learns patience, and she learns that not everything is as simple as she'd like it to be. It makes her and her story much more relatable than if she were simply out to destroy those who wronged her. And it's these qualities that make the reader fall in love with her journey.

Another thing I loved, and one primary reason that I picked this up, was the setting. I feel like India, it's culture, and it's history are receiving more prominence in novels recently and across all genres. Now this could be because publishers are picking up more stories set in and around this region, or with this cultural background, or it could just be that I"m noticing them more because I'm enjoying the setting/culture. Regardless, I love this because it helps expose more people to a region/culture that they may not have as great of familiarity with. Novels have a great way of expanding the mind and planting of seed of knowledge that can help grow further curiosity, and this is another great addition to those that do.

All in all, I think this is a wonderful start to the series. (I've already added the next title to my TBR list on Goodreads for whenever it's published). It'll appeal to those who like their books with a kickass female protagonist who is set on changing the world. Which will have plenty of good company in the YA lit world.

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Of the recent surge of fantasy books inspired by folklore/medieval history, this one is pretty solid. It tells the tale of Gul, a girl with a star-shaped birthmark on her arm who has been trying to outmaneuver King Lohar. The king has made it his mission to eliminate anyone with such a birthmark because they could fulfill the prophecy of the star warrior, which would lead to his death.

Bhathena's world-building is compelling, as are the strong female characters (even if Gul was a little annoyingly naive/impulsive at times). I enjoyed seeing the connection develop between Gul and Cavas. While the pacing was slow at times, the fast-paced action scenes made up for it.

This was told in dual POV with a surprise third voice at the end; I look forward to seeing how this particular character develops in the sequel.

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This book was not what I expected but I think that is a good thing. Told in dual POV's from Gul a girl who has the mark of the prophecy. A girl predicted to take back the throne. The King is looking for any female with this mark. Gul's POV was definitely my favorite. Getting to know her past and following her journey and discovery of what and who she is was fascinating. Cavas was another POV of a boy who works in the stables at the palace. He made Gul's POV and story more well rounded but I did not feel I needed as much from his backstory and also was not drawn as much into his journey.

The pacing was a little slow in the first couple chapters but the dual POV's does pick up the pacing pretty quick. This was a magical and fun adventure that I look forward to continuing in the sequel. I am giving Hunted by the Sky 4 out of 5 stars. I would read this one again.

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Gul and her family has always been on the run -- a star-shaped birthmark on her arm sealed her fate. King Lohar has ruthlessly hunted any girl with star-like birthmarks to protect himself from the prophecy of the star warrior -- a prophecy that speaks his death. When Gul's family is ruthlessly killed by Lohar's Sky Warriors, Gul must find a way to survive -- just to exact her revenge. Cavas works in King Lohar's stables -- a peasant without magic, life is hard and he is lucky to have his position. However, when his path runs into Gul, his life will change dramatically -- even if he doesn't yet know it.

Hunted by the Sky is a beautifully written story, inspired by medieval India. Filled with strong female characters and a lot of grit, the plot moves quickly, switching between Gul's and Cavas' perspective. The first in a series, readers will be left wanting to know what is in store for Gul, Cavas, the Sisters of the Golden Lotus and the Kingdom of Ambar.

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This book was beautiful with characters that had depth and heart! The beginning was a little slow trying to follow the different wordings and such, but there is a glossary which I found later that helped all of that. The author did an amazing job of world building along with following these characters through an epic story. Loved Gul and Cavas, their stories were amazing, plus even the side characters were wonderful and had depth, which was outstanding! I loved how the characters grew throughout the book, it was amazing. The last half of the book just flew by, it was nonstop action! There were twists and turns throughout the whole book. Highly recommend to anyone who wants a good story with wonderful characters. Thanks to the author and Netgalley for the ARC! Loved this story and highly anticipating the next book!

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