Cover Image: The Bookweaver's Daughter

The Bookweaver's Daughter

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

3.5 ⭐️

The story is about Reya Khandari, the daughter of a Bookweaver, whose power to bring his stories to life has rooted from generations before them.

Disguised as a peasant working in the Fields, Reya Patel solely cares for his father and protects his secret since the Zakirs drove out the Mages seven years ago. 

When her father was discovered and died on the fire, the king’s soldiers are looking for her. Reya decided to flee the kingdom with her best friend Nina Nadeer. Reya’s magic was awakened when they were caught on foot by Prince Devendra, Lady Sharati, and the king’s army. Upon discovering she used illegal magic against the prince, they decided to seek refuge in another kingdom. The pursue has never stopped until they reach the city of Bharata. 

The story is well written, engaging, and fast-paced but sometimes I find it hard to believe that they were always lucky to escape arrest thrice before they reach another city.

Some questions come to mind like how were they easily accepted by the rebellion just by merely revealing her true identity? Why did Reya’s mother, Kamala, never got in touch with them if she was just staying inside the palace all those seven years? Why was Roshan, Reya’s uncle, unable to find her and his father if he was a part of the rebellion to protect them?  What happened to the Spider, the king’s chief mage? How come Lady Sharati easily died during the palace explosion?

Overall, it was a good dystopian themed read for me and some parts made me smile because some of the Ancient Kasmiri spells reminds me of a book about the boy who lived. If you love a story about magic, friendship, hope, and self-empowerment then I recommend this book to you!

I’m thankful to the author, to the publisher, and Netgalley for allowing me to read and review the eARC of this novel.
Was this review helpful?
Overall, I enjoyed the characters and story that Kannan presented to us with The Bookweaver's Daughter and I was so excited to be given a chance to review this book early. However, there are some major issues in this book. I will start with the bad and then end with the good.

I didn't want to do any research or spoil the book for myself at all so I just jumped right into the story. Unfortunately, upon finishing the book I sought out reviews from book bloggers who were of Indian or South Asian descent and their concerns with the book very valid. These reviews were not favorable of the book because of how the author presented certain conflicts that are still very present in India and South Asia. While I tried to educate myself as much as I could on the matter, I don't feel that it's my place to discuss this topic as there are many people with the appropriate heritage who have written reviews that explain these issues. I will attach a link to an informative review below. I feel that this author would've benefitted from having Beta Readers with heritage similar to her own to critique the book before there was a final draft and before official ARCs were sent out. I am not sure if this was done. 

Now the good. I really enjoyed this story. Reya and Nina's friendship was beautiful and I love a good adventure story. While I felt that the pacing was a little speedy, I was never bored while reading this and I was very interested to see what the end of Reya and Nina's story looked like. The lack of romance was also refreshing as I don't want authors to feel as though they have to include romance to be interesting. A beautiful friendship is just as good. I also loved the use of magic in this story and how it came naturally to Reya as she developed as a Yogi. 

If the author were ever to revise her story to fix the many issues that readers have with it, I would love to read it again and give it another review as I believe that it really does have a lot of potential. and a good story.

Informative review on issues within the book: 
https://veereading.com/review-the-bookweavers-daughter-by-malavika-kannan-a-rant/
Was this review helpful?
I really had high hopes for this book when I requested this book, as it held promise as a strong YA fantasy set in an Indian kingdom.

This is the story of teen Reya, daughter of the Bookweaver, who can make the words that are written come to life. In order to disguise her magical powers, Reya has posed as a peasant her whole life. However when her father dies, her magic is awoken and now it is up to her to help the rebels protect her kingdom's magic - in other words-the orphan becomes the chosen one - very predictable. 

Sadly, this book did not reach my expectations. Whilst the start was promising, I found the whole story to be wishy washy and confusing as it jumped through the time line very much. 

I also found the writing a bit cringe worthy and although I'm not the best person to comment on the racial commentary, there were some things that really bugged me ( 1. This book is supposed to be set in a magical kingdom equivalent of Kashmir - okay fine, but in light of this then shouldn't it be more conscious of the diversity? One example of this, is that when Reya's friend wants to learn to read, she is immediately shown the first letter A - of the western alphabet? I don't know but shouldn't a peasant girl first learn the actual language of her kingdom - which is most likely not the western alphabet). As I said, I'm not the correct person to comment on the diversity of this book but I am sure that I am not the only one who found this distressing. 

Overall, I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book, but I did not which is sad as I was really excited to read this.
Was this review helpful?
Diverse fantasy books are hell yes for me.Because there very few I have gotten a chance to read and much less of India one's 

But this book has some problematic issues I came across during read and some were brought to my attention.  So I don't know what to say anymore.

Thank you to the publisher, author and netgalley for providing with digital arc of the book. But this in no way affects my review of the book.
Was this review helpful?
The Bookweaver's Daughter boasts a plot centered on Hindu mythology, representation, magic, and strong friendship, but this all falls flat. The plot felt like a rip-off of Avatar: the Last Airbender, down to Devendra(Zuko)'s need to reclaim his honor by finding the Bookweaver. The magic system made no sense and had no continuity. The writing felt childish and simplistic. The plot was ridiculously predictable. Using the name Kasmira and its derivatives seems problematic considering the history of Kashmir, and should have been written with more research and sensitivity.

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Kannan, at 19, probably doesn't understand the responsibility one bears as an #OwnVoices writer. I respect her opinion, which I believe has been shaped by the people around her and a narrative (probably one-sided) she has come across all her life. Her (not-so-subtle) hints at the exodus of Kashmiri-pandits in this story cannot be ignored.
Fantasy tends to have its cliches and I am willing to overlook a few errors in her craft because this is her debut novel but what's unacceptable, and mostly enraging is her lack of research and the very absence of innovation in her story-telling technique.
The Bookweaver's Daughter misrepresents Kashmir (a very touchy topic in India, mind-you), its inhabitants and the traditional Indian culture and the diversity of it.

Terribly disappointed, but hope that the author will make the necessary changes in her forthcoming books. Not boycotting the author, just not supporting the existence of this book.
Was this review helpful?
After a few discussions and contemplation, I decided that I didn't really like this book that much. And I somehow feel it's a little offensive and trying to portray a very hindu propaganda. The fact that the kingdoms, even though fictional, we named Kasmira (which is so similar to Kashmir) and Indira/Bharata (which ultimately denotes India where also the main uprising forms oops), is a direct understanding of the supposed divide forged. Said to be an indian inspired fantasy but damn if I ever felt any sort of representation (and I'm an ownvoices reviewer)! It read like a very haphazardly put wattpad fiction, written at the age of 12. The plot was all over the place, the characters were insufferable, the magic was okayish and I was bored. 

Although I enjoyed this story at certain points, I did find a few qualms along the way. I felt like the story had a haphazard timeline in between, where time elapses and it still feels like only a day had passed. The time jumps were so quickly placed and executed. At some points, it got a bit cringy and I didn't enjoy the dialogues much. I also felt like the MC, Reya, was a very typical heroine oops. She's one of the typical YA heroine you'll read about, thinking that she'll save the world, and doing the exact opposite of what everyone tells her to. Ugh. 

That said, I really have to commend the author for having written this when she was 17. That has to account for something, really. But still, it doesn't overlook the fact that the representation was so poor, and literally zero research has gone into building the world. And again, I just wish we could've known more about how the bookweaving works, you know. I felt like it really got very less screen time. I mean, wtf was BOOKWEAVING?? Wtf happens!? We are literally given no information about the only reason why Reya is hunted and wanted which should've had so much more importance and focus on the story. How does the bookweaving work? Wtf happens? Did her father just sit and write stories? If stories indeed came true, why didn't it for him? Wtf did Reya not already use it to change the fate? Ugh 🙄🙄🙄

I'm just a little salty about this book tbh. I had high expectations, considering it was supposed to have Indian rep, I found no relation. It was all over the place and weird and the story was also very cliche and an overly use plotline. 
It's head fast paced and predictable so if you want to spend some time on an easy fantasy, this might be it 🤷

Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the e-arc. All views expressed are mine.
Was this review helpful?
I don't plan to review this book. This "own voice" book contains problematic themes and blatant lack of research that may harm some minorities.  
For detailed info, please read Meha's review on https://chaipters.design.blog/2020/08/18/bookweavers-daughter-malavika-kannan-review/
Was this review helpful?
My Review: A Problematic OwnVoice Novel

When I received an ARC for this, I was over the moon! I’m always looking for more Indian representation in books. And when I read the first chapter, I thought this novel was it. I loved the prose and was so excited to continue reading. Unfortunately, my excitement didn’t last long.

Here is my biggest issue with this novel: it is not a good OwnVoice representation. Apart from the mention of some clothing and food items, there was barely any incorporation of Indian culture. This was such a huge disappointment to me because it would have made the worldbuilding and story itself stand out. Also, and this may sound petty, the main character says NAAN BREAD multiple times during the story. Naan actually means bread … so essentially, we have an MC of Indian origin who continually says “bread bread” and this is NOT OKAY. I have spent a good portion of my life patiently correcting non-Indians over this so to see an Indian character repeatedly make this mistake just really irked me.

But this isn’t the biggest problem in terms of representation. I was deeply uncomfortable to see the author pitting two different religious factions against each other. Kasmira, which sounds a lot like Kashmir, is a kingdom under control of the evil Zakirs (which is a pretty Muslim sounding name) and they have hunted down/killed many mages and Yogis (which is a Hindu term). Perhaps, the author was trying to allude to the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus back in 1989 – but there was no sensitivity given to this topic. If you are going to speak about a contentious historical event, it needs to be handled with care and respect. And considering the current political situation in India, there is an even greater call for responsible writing – and that was not shown at all in this book. WE DO NOT NEED TO VILLAINIZE ANY RELIGIOUS FACTION OR GROUP! This was not something I was expecting to read in an Indian-inspired novel and it is not something I as an OwnVoice reviewer feels best represents Indian culture.

In terms of the actual story, this novel was not executed well at all. When you have a very generic plot, you should at least try and ensure that the rest of the story is good enough to make up for it. But that didn’t happen here. The pacing of the story was far too quick for my liking. It felt like it was taking place over a few days rather than months, and so many details were missing throughout. There also wasn’t enough of an opportunity to get to know any of the other characters and feel anything towards them.

And that brings me to the main character of the story: Reya. She is the most incoherent character I have come across. For the life of me, I have no idea who she is or what is going through her mind. Her moments of self-pity and guilt quickly give way to unwarranted anger. The author never actually allows the reader to experience things alongside Reya. In fact, there is so much telling vs showing that the book got boring.

Reya also constantly blames herself for everything. But the thing is … it would only make sense if she actually did something. Throughout the novel, all she does is follow the instructions of others. There is not a single moment where she makes any decision herself, without the aid of others. And the fact that she says she is being mistreated and tortured by the King, when she is literally treated as his guest, was baffling.

I also found Devendra, one of the main villains of the story, to be a mashup of Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Inan from Children of Blood and Bone. While both of these characters were my favourites in their respective stories, Devendra lacked their depth and complexity. The same can be said for his father’s character, who is supposed to be this absolutely evil tyrant – but he only really makes an appearance near the end of the book.

The only character I liked (from the few moments where her personality came through) was Nina and I personally had no idea why their bond was as strong as it was. Nina is always supporting Reya and apart from Reya telling the reader that she cares for Nina, there is no evidence of reciprocity. In fact, in one scene, Reya states that she is all alone, completely forgetting about poor Nina languishing somewhere in the castle dungeons. And let me just say that the relationship between Nina and Reya does not give off platonic vibes. There were so many moments where it felt like the author was hinting at a sapphic romance – but nothing came of it. It just frustrated me and I wish the author had just made things clearer on this front.

There is also a lack of attention to detail that left me feeling so frustrated. Something would be introduced and then quickly forgotten about, leaving tons of loose ends. For example, what happened to the book Reya was carrying from her father? How did she forget she had an UNCLE?! What did the actual training to unlock her abilities consist of? What does Ancient Kasmiri look like? Why was Reya teaching Nina to read English of all languages? These were just some of the questions that came to mind and I never got the answer to any of them.

This post has turned out to be a huge rant. Part of me feels bad. I want to uplift OwnVoice authors and novels. But I also need to stay true to myself. This novel was extremely problematic and needs to go back to the drawing board. I commend the author for writing a book at such a young age and making it this far in her publishing journey. However, this novel, while having a ton of potential, is not ready for publication in its current state.
Was this review helpful?
This author has been proven to be very problematic, and the story is clearly not well researched. The publication was evidently rushed.
Was this review helpful?
This book was under researched and superficial. A lot of the cultural hallmarks of being South Asian were obfuscated or thrown in willynilly with no regard for how culture creates richness and distinction. Additionally, I was deeply offended by the hindu supremacist and mildly islamophobic undertones of how the land of Kasmira (most certainly based on the war torn and mistreated land of Kashmir) was originally belonging to people who practiced a faith that resembles hinduism and therefore they were wronged. This reflects the modern day propaganda of anti Muslim rhetoric in India and shows that the author either has these biases or did no research past the propaganda that Modi’s administration is putting out.
Was this review helpful?
I don't know how to explain that this is an extremely problematic book especially in regards to the obvious nods to Kashmir. I quickly put this book down which is a shame because with the proper research this could have been a solid fantasy. But instead, it paints the oppressed party as the oppressors (please read up on the Kashmir conflict!!!!) and is clearly Islamophobic.

Politics and problematic rep aside I barely got through one chapter because the writing was very patchy and while I could see a younger version of myself enjoying the writing it is not enough to excuse the extremely problematic representation.
Was this review helpful?
The Bookweaver's Daughter is an easy, fast paced read. The writing was at times beautiful and lyrical but sometimes a bit over dramatic.
The characters were fleshed out and their voices seemed realistic for teenagers. 
The story itself felt underdeveloped. It felt like a series of events rather than a coherent plot. There were several plot conveniences which made the story underwhelming and events feel unearned. 
The protagonist Reya lacked any agency and was pulled along by the whims of the plot and the wants of the character around her. She seemed to lack a sense of self and any real motivation other than what was forced upon her. 
There were some rather glaring inconsistencies which should have been caught while editing. The climax was a muddle of sudden plot twists, action and inexplicable behaviour. The villians were easily defeated with very little forethought by Reya. Things just conviniently fell into place. One of well established obstacles which limited Reya's actions didn't actually hold her back or effect her when it was established it should have. It made the ending feel unearned and overly convinient. 

It felt like the story wasn't ready to be published yet. There was a lot of telling and very little showing of the character relationships. Most of the development, growth of characters and their relationships was either told by the narrtor or occured off page. 

While writing this book is an amazing achievement for an author so young her inexperience shows and taking more time to develop the story, the world and do more research into the history and cultures the story was based on would have Improved it. 
The world itself it underdeveloped with all the world building elements simply appropriated from real world India and often poorly. The author did not consider how diverse India is and how different regions of it is, so taking things from different places and mashing them together was messy. 
The cartoonishly evil villians were heavily coded as muslim and considering the current state of Kashmir, the (hopefully unintentional) islamophobic and pro-hindu retoric of the book was in poor taste and more than a little problematic.
I wouldn't recommend it but if you liked Children of Blood and Bone you might enjoy this. The plot, especially in the latter half have very similar plot beats and one of the main antagonists is very Zuko/Inan esque.
Was this review helpful?
Although I received an e-ARC of The Bookweaver's Daughter in exchange for an honest review, I no longer intend to read it. Nor will I ever pick up a copy of this book once it's been published.

Many Indian, including Kashmiri, early reviewers of this debut have kindly explained their main issues with The Bookweaver's Daughter:
📌 Poor representation of Indian culture
📌 Problematic content that is offensive to the history and current climate in Kashmir

I highly recommend reading these reviews for an informed opinion:
📌 Meha from Books, Bits, & Bobs (#ownvoices): https://chaipters.design.blog/2020/08/18/bookweavers-daughter-malavika-kannan-review/
📌 Mish from Chasing Faerytales: https://chasingfaerytales.com/the-bookweavers-daughter-by-malavika-kannan-is-rather-problematic/
Was this review helpful?
Being an #ownvoices reader, I can't recommend this book to anyone in my good conscious. This book is highly problematic and I wish the author has done some research about the Northern part of her own country before writing this book. Highly disappointed.
Was this review helpful?
When I came across the description for Malavika Kannan’s debut, The Bookweaver’s Daughter, requesting an ARC was a no-brainer for me. Described as a YA fantasy inspired by the mythology of India, it called out to my love of the genre and my constant search for Indian representation in literature. Not only that, but the book’s synopsis said the story took place in a land called ‘Kasmira,’ which I was certain was based on Kashmir. 

A personal note -- I’m Kashmiri on my Dad’s side of the family, and I had yet to read a YA novel set in or inspired by Kashmir (if I remember correctly, the only book I’ve read at all set in the region is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children). So I went into this book excited, hoping to love it. Unfortunately, I didn’t. 

I’ll start with the positives. There are some genuinely really good moments of prose here -- certain turns of phrases work really well. Also, Kannan was just 17 when she wrote this book, and she writes the voice of Reya, the 15-year-old narrator, very authentically. There are one-liners sprinkled throughout that are funny, and sound natural for a young teenager. I have no doubt that Kannan has the makings of a good writer. 

Before I move onto the negatives, I think it’s worth providing a brief plot summary. It is, essentially, a very pared down version of Avatar: The Last Airbender or Children of Blood and Bone. Reya Kandhari lives in Kasmira, a fantasy Indic kingdom that was once home to powerful magi known as Yogis, but that has in the last seven years been invaded by the cruel King Jahan Zakir. Reya’s father is the Bookweaver, the only remaining Yogi in Kasmira who possesses a type of storytelling magic. Reya inherits this power suddenly, and, along with her best friend Nina, has to go on the run as Prince Devendra, Jahan’s son -- a character very obviously modelled on Zuko or Inan from the aforementioned ATLA and  CBB -- hunts her down, and she becomes the symbol of the Kasmiri resistance.

The two major issues with the book can generally be divided into the writing -- the style and mechanics of the actual text -- and the actual content of the story, so I’ll take a two-pronged approach to dissecting this because, boy, do I have a lot to say. 

The Writing 

I mentioned that Kannan was very young when she wrote this novel, and whilst the achievement of writing and publishing a novel as a teen is a feat I applaud her for, it really does show up in the writing and structure of the book. The best way I can describe this book is that it reads like a highlights reel. There’s a reason sports fans tend to prefer watching actual games in full rather than just the after-match wrap-up, but this book unfortunately reads like the latter.

It felt like I was reading a very detailed synopsis or outline, because plot beats moved so quickly and abruptly from one to the other. There were no sequences of transition or spaces to breathe. If a character was foreshadowed in one scene, they’d suddenly be introduced the next sentence. There’s a big reveal about one character that is foreshadowed and then immediately revealed and confirmed in the same two pages. The book was a very quick read, close to novella length, and for the story this book wanted to tell, it did not work.

There were essential character and plot arcs we needed to buy into but couldn’t. Reya and Nina’s friendship is supposed to form the emotional core of the story and most of the emotional stakes of the story are entirely contingent upon it. But we never get to see any organic development between the two, no moments of interaction that show us how much they mean to each other and why. It’s clear the author believes in the power of their friendship wholeheartedly, but the way she does that is by having Reya repeatedly say how much she loves Nina, and it doesn’t really do anything to help us invest in the relationship. I focused on them because it’s the central relationship in the book, but just about every character dynamic has this issue.

The plot was paradoxical in that so many things happened but I could not tell you what was a plot twist or a surprise, I couldn’t point to any rising or falling action because there isn’t any. There were definitely moments meant to be Big Reveals or Plot Twists, but they didn’t carry any weight because nothing in the story up to that point really affected them. They just happened in completely linear fashion.

And I keep saying it, but this book really suffered from lack of “in-between” moments. Those slower, quiet moments are where the skill of authors really shine through; if used correctly, they can facilitate some really powerful moments of relationship and character development or thematic introspection. This book had none of those at all, and it felt very bare-bones and hollow as a result -- Kannan seems to have written only the “climactic” scenes, but a climax is only a climax if it’s bolstered by rises and falls. Otherwise, it’s just a disjointed list of things that happen.

The Content

I have to preface this section by saying that Malavika Kannan is an Own Voices author, so she has every right to depict and explore facets of her culture and identity as she sees fit. 

That being said, as an Own Voices reader, a lot of the world-building details in this book baffled and disappointed me. Some were minor -- at one point, the characters, all of whom are very obviously based on North Indian cultures, mention drinking ‘rasam’, a dish specific to South India (India is a big ol’ country, and the cultural and linguistic differences between states and regions are enormous!). Characters say ‘naan bread’ and ‘chai tea,’ two notorious phrases which are nails-on-a-chalkboard for most Indians -- naan and chai mean bread and tea. Even non-Desis speakers have largely cottoned on to this by now! Also, there’s a language called ‘Ancient Kasmiri’ mentioned in the book which (by the way, Kashmiri is in fact a very real language) throws in a few Sanskrit phrases here and there but consists mainly of Latin which is jarring and a little bizarre in such a non-Anglicised setting. 

Most of these are small details, not catastrophic by any means, but the fact that there were so many of these noticeable inaccuracies was a little irksome to read. However, none of these are even close to the issues I have with the substance of the plot.

To explain this properly, I’m going to need to give you a very, very brief and highly simplified crash-course in Indian history and geopolitics, neither of which I’m exactly an expert in myself, so strap in. 

Kashmir: A (very) brief history

Basically, India was historically a series of Princely States (another reason for the myriad of cultural differences I mentioned earlier). The Indian subcontinent was conquered and ruled by various empires and dynasties throughout the years, and then came the British Raj and the creation of “British India.” When India finally freed itself from colonial rule in 1947, Britain divided the country into two independent nations: India and Pakistan. This division is known as partition, and is one of the bloodiest and most traumatic events in the history of both nations. Several families -- my own included -- all both sides of the border have been irreversibly shaped by the generational trauma of this event to this day. The underlying conflict of Partition -- and again, this is an almost comically simplified explanation -- is that Hindu areas were meant to join India, while Muslim majority states were supposed to join Pakistan. Since there were families of numerous religions who had been living all across and on both sides of the border for generations, this upheaval caused all kinds of violence and rising religious tensions.

Kashmir was caught in a tricky place in this conflict, because whilst it’s population was a Muslim majority, it’s Raja was Hindu, and he didn’t commit to joining either India or Pakistan straight away. What ended up happening is that both Indian and Pakistan eventually ended up claiming sovereignty of the state, and it’s been disputed territory ever since. Religious tensions and violence grew increasingly worse. In 1985, outcry from those who contested India’s occupation led to the persecution of the small Hindu population in Kashmir. Known as the Kashmiri Pandits, they amassed only 5% of the population, but they had lived there for generations. Religious violence resulted in a genocide of the Kashmiri Pandits however, as several murders and attacks took place, and eventually the increasing tensions culminated in an Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, almost all of whom had to flee their ancestral homeland forever. 

Remember when I said I was a Kashmiri? Let me clarify -- I’m a Kashmir Pandit, and my father’s family was one of those affected by the genocide. Most of them haven’t lived in Kashmir for generations, despite being proud of and invested in Kashmiri culture and heritage. The Exodus of the Pandits is a deeply personal and painful chapter in the family’s history, alongside, partition.

But to get the whole picture of Kashmir’s story, we have to fast forward to the present, where India has revoked Kashmir’s special status -- which granted it autonomy from India’s government -- and forced the region into a brutal lockdown. There has been land settlement, violence, and Kashmir is now the most militarised region in the world. The Indian government and supporters of this regime have consistently touted the Exodus of Kashmiri Pandits as an excuse for the human rights abuses being enacted in Kashmir right now, turning a tragic and painful genocide into a political trump card.

Okay, back to the review

If you’re still with me after that crash course -- and I highly encourage you to do your own research on all of this! -- we return to The Bookweaver’s Daughter, specifically, the world-building.

Any doubts I had about Kasmira being an obvious Kashmir stand-in were quickly eviscerated by the plot. Several words, including the main character’s name and the presence of “Yogis” are directly lifted from Sanskrit, the language used in the Hindu scriptures. The magic of Bookweaving, associated with scholarship, record-keeping, scribing, all draws on the imagery traditionally ascribed to Kashmiri Pandits, whose Brahmin status means they’re also regarded as religious scholars. Meanwhile, the villains are evil conquerors with the explicitly Muslim surname “Zakir”. Their architecture is constantly described as having domes and minarets, again a hallmark of Islamic architecture, and the symbolism is about as unsubtle as it was with the Hindu imagery.

With these two sides situated in a story about a Hindu-coded group being oppressed and driven from their ancestral homeland by Muslim-coded oppressors, the metaphor could not be more obvious. But it is irresponsible writing on many levels. 

As I have explained, the Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits is unreservedly a tragedy. It’s a traumatic chapter in a traumatic and ongoing story. But there is nothing cathartic or personal about an author -- who I am almost certain is not a Kashmiri Pandit -- using that history, in a way that feels grossly under-researched and riddled with inaccuracies for a story which ends up feeling dangerously loaded when given the context of Kashmir, India, and India’s Islamophobia today.

I will be the first to admit I balk at the idea of discussing Kashmiri politics outside of my immediate family because the issue is so complicated and, for us, so personal. I find it frankly offensive when the Exodus of the Pandits is constantly brought up as some kind of justification for the human rights abuses being carried out today, as if it’s a ‘gotcha!’ moment and not a source of generational trauma that has left a community burdened with the imminence of its own extinction for years. 

And, by telling a very poorly fleshed out and frankly Islamophobic story, Kannan has, whether intentionally or not, engaged in that same reductive narrative and it’s profoundly uncomfortable for me to read. And make no mistake, this story reads as deeply Islamophobic. Devendra Zakir, who I mentioned earlier, had me scratching my head at first because he was the only one of the Muslim-coded Zakirs with a Sanskrit, Hindu first name. I thought it was just a lack of research or another cultural inaccuracy on the author’s part but then -- spoiler -- it turns out he’s the only one of the antagonists who’s even slightly sympathetic to the heroes. Shocker! 

Again, I’m aware Kannan -- who is 19 now -- wrote this novel several years ago, when she was younger and Kashmir didn’t dominate the news cycle in the same way. I doubt she set out to engage in a narrative of reducing very real trauma to inaccurate and oversimplified political propaganda intentionally. But this needed to be researched. I don’t say “researched more” because I don’t think it was researched at all. This needed to be run by other sets of eyes, preferably Kashmiris, Kashmiri Pandits, Muslims, and people who are well-versed in Kashmiri history. 

I’m all for fantasies that play fast-and-loose with their historical influences, and I fully embrace the idea of using historical events as points of imagination and inspiration for a story. But when it comes to an event like the Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, which is not only enduringly traumatic, but also something so frequently touted as a trigger and a dog-whistle in a dangerous and violent political and religious conflict right now, then it is your responsibility as an author to make damn well sure you are equipped to tell that story and handle it sensitively and intelligently. If you’d told me the concept for this story beforehand, I’d have been highly skeptical that it was one a non-Kashmiri Pandit should have been telling, and having read this book, none of my doubts were assuaged.

What saddened me on a more personal level is that despite constructing a poorly wrought plot based on the politics and trauma of Kashmir, there was no real representation of the details and delights of Kashmiri culture. Kashmiris have our own cuisine, types of dress, specific festivals -- none of them appeared amidst the rasam and the naan bread. 

In Conclusion (finally) 

It’s only fair to point out that reading this book wasn’t actually a terrible experience. I got through it very quickly, and while the issues in writing were glaringly obvious and kept me from truly enjoying it, they didn’t make me angry and want to DNF either. If those were the only issues, I would probably have been able to say this was a good effort from a young author with some real promise, but that was probably published much too soon.

However, intentionally or not, this book threw itself obviously and squarely in the middle of one of the most complicated and sensitive conflicts I know of. Navigating the discussion around the connection between the atrocities committed against the Kashmiri Pandits and those being carried out against Muslims in Kashmir is one which I, my family, and most experts would struggle to navigate properly. This book attempted to do so, and did so very very poorly. And in the current climate, to do so is not only irresponsible, but it is dangerous. So I apologise for the length of this review -- and I truly do wish Kannan the best -- but I felt like, as a Kashmiri Pandit, the least I could do was say something.
Was this review helpful?
There’s been a lot of valid conversations happening surrounding this book and I’m not sure I want to add my voice to that. After all, people have already said what I’m thinking.

Whenever you’re writing a fictional story based on real people and real events, it’s so important to do the research first. I think you really need to know the history before writing it into a book that could cause a lot of harm.

There are (to me and others) references to the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus from late 1989 to 1990 in this book. There is so much to consider about that event and I don’t think it was handled with as much as much care as it should have been. Even more so, the current situation between Kashmir and India should be taken into account. The Kashmiri people have had their rights stripped for over a year. Naming an entire country Kashmira and it’s people Kashmiri is not something I can get behind.

Furthermore, I was uncomfortable with the Muslim versus Hindu rhetoric found in this book. The Zakirs gave me the impression that they were based on Mughal leaders. I didn’t like that the ruling government was simply called the Raj when we call the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent the British Raj. The “bad” guys having very clearly Muslim names versus the “good” guys having names from Hindu epics should not be a liberty you take in your story. Yogi is a term used for a person who practices and teaches yoga that is rooted deeply in Hinduism. I could go on but I think you get the idea. People have lost their lives to this kind of rhetoric (Islamaphobia if you’re wondering) and you should be mindful of that.

I also want to touch on the idea of mixing cultures, histories, languages, and other aspects you consider when you’re world building. The author mentioned on Twitter how fantasy worlds such a Avatar, Lord of the Rings (LoTR), and Game of Thrones (GoT) have been created by mixing various myths and histories across various cultures. I absolutely think that authors of color should also be able to do this, especially with their own cultures, but it’s incredibly important they do it with care. Avatar has clear nations and tribes that take from cultures and is done is a (relatively) positive way. George RR Martin, on the other hand, has received a lot of criticism for his portrayal of the Dothraki. It’s not enough to simply take bits and pieces of different cultures (even if some if it comes from our own) and do whatever we want with them.

In the end, I think that this book could benefit from a stronger and more concise world building in a way that doesn’t cause harm to real people. We should also be diligent in learning the history of the countries and cultures that we want to write about.
Was this review helpful?
Pros: The message about female friendship and the basic concept of the magic of the bookweaver.
Cons: There were quite a few. The pacing and the writing needed more work and this book proved to be a struggle to get through. There needed to be a lot more research, since the "Indian" setting failed to live up to the basic standard. There were also several problematic elements in the story, for example, naming the place Kasmira and then dealing with the delicate socio-political matters that come with it without due sensitivity and responsibility. The characters failed to come through at all. By the end of the book, I didn't really feel like I knew any of them. I don't usually say this for own voices books, but the representation here was not well done, and desperately needs sensitivity reader. Also, while the concept of the magic system was neat, it was not explained nor explored in a meaningful way, leaving the reader more confused than intrigued.
That being said, if more research was put into the book and it went through more revisions, I'm sure it's be able to shine. There were some good concepts there, but the execution was poor. If a better version of the book was to come out in the future, I'm sure I would enjoy it.
Was this review helpful?
Unfortunately I couldn't complete reading this title and I'd prefer not to share my feedback. I feel that this book has a lot of problematic elements and needs more rigorous editing.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Unfortunately, this book is not my cup of tea. The elements of the story intrigued me, but the execution of the story sadly disappointed me.

The book's description touts it as being "a tale of magic, Indian lore, and radical female friendship", which is what drew my interest in the book. It follows Reya, the daughter of the bookweaver who has the ability to use magic through telling stories. When her father is killed by the king who wants to eradicate magic, Reya inherits her father's ability but doesn't know how to use or control it. She soon finds herself caught between a resistance group and the king who both want to use her power and must decide which path she will take.

Lamentably, the book's description oversold the actual book. I almost marked the book DNF (did not finish) at the 23% mark because I didn't care about any of the characters and the plot was a confusing whiplash of events happening to the main character. For the first half of the book, the reader didn't actually know what the bookweaver's magic was, and this made it difficult to understand why everyone was so reverential of Reya and why the resistance movement so readily accepted her. The world building seemed underdeveloped, and I think there were some questionable decisions made by the author in that department. Reya often refers to things like naan bread and dhol drums, both of which are essentially like saying bread bread and drums drums. Similar to the world building, the characters themselves seemed superficial. The "radical female friendship" seemed forced by the author rather than naturally developed. Overall, I think there are bits and pieces of ideas in this book that are interesting, but it needs more editing and revisions in regards to pacing, plot, characterization, and world building. I think it could also do with some sensitivity readers in regard to its incorporations of Indian lore and depictions of a fictionalized Kashmir.
Was this review helpful?