One must have a taste for the fantasy genre to enjoy reading it unless you hold in your hands this particular book by name of Cursed by the Syhlain, the first title in the Aoife and Demon trilogy.

Cursed be the Syhlain is authored by two new Pakistani writers Humeira Kazmi and Shamila Ghyas. It won the Summer Indie Book Awards (SIBA) 2016 for Best Fantasy Fiction, and it does not disappoint. As you peak into another realm, it takes you into a world of magic, mystery, sarcasm and a compelling power struggle.

It is the story of Aoife Edwards, a college senior, who lives in the shadow of her power hungry stepmother who uses her to attract the very elite whom Aoife loves to stun, infuriate and mock. It all, however, comes to a sudden halt on that fateful day when Aoife is visited by a blue-skinned man, and consequently, is thrown in the personal chambers of a bad to the bone Demon King.

Aoife, unaware of her legacy and past, is truly in for a surprise when she has to team up with her arch nemesis, Demon, to break a curse, defeat a formidable army, and restore glory to a lost kingdom, while discovering the truth about her own past.

Failure is not an option for anyone involved!

Cursed be the Syhlain is a fast read that keeps you hooked and glued with intriguing characters and an original story to boot.

A special treat ensues for us from the subcontinent as we enjoy little subtle glimpses of our culture meshed with that of the foreign Realm. The authors crafted a new language just for the Realm called Akina that bears a strong resemblance to the languages of our region. The names of characters also seem to be chosen with care. For example, as you read, you’ll find that one of the characters dons a chunri, thank you is Shukran Aman, while the Army general is aptly named Salaar.

There are not too many books out there where the main protagonist is a woman and that too a powerful warrior who, putting it simply, kicks butt! And as we all know, our social structure as well as our fictional world is certainly screaming for strong, opinionated female characters who can set things right and be of value in their own right rather than being a part of someone else’s story. Hence, there’s Aoife.

The tongue-in-cheek and sarcasm-encrusted conversations and encounters between the characters are quintessential to the book. It’s not only a fantastic read; it’s witty to the core. Clever puns, humor, and banters carry the book to the end, making it an absolute page-turner.

Each character is well defined and matures with the progression of the book. The details are so vivid that you can see a movie playing in your head.

You end the book anxiously waiting to read the next part. So, be sure to add Cursed be the Syhlain to your ‘must read’ list. Your next book order must include this title. You will not be disappointed!

INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHORS

First of all congratulations on winning the Summer Indie Book Awards 2016 for best fantasy for your first book Cursed Be the Syhlain. It seems that you were the only Pakistani women fantasy authors nominated. And the book is part of a series?

Thank you. Yes, Cursed be the Syhlain is the first book in our fantasy trilogy, Aoife and Demon. The nomination itself came as a big surprise to us as well. And our book won! We were actually the only Pakistani fantasy writers on the list too, not just women writers from Pakistan.

Why fantasy?

Because why not? Our culture is so rich in folklore and tales from lands faraway, our heritage of stories of Amir Hamza and Tilisim Hoshruba, it’s a shame we don’t take that genre more seriously anymore. Not to mention our very own treasure trove of sci-fi thrillers, names like Ibn-e-Safi had opened doors for us so why shouldn’t we enter that realm and make our name among international literature. Why must Pakistan only be known for its sordid tales of justice delayed and denied and of love lost to bad marriages and evil in-laws? We think it’s time to change all that.

Aoife and Demon is a shared love. We usually hear about a lot of conflicts when two authors write together. You two have written two books so how was your experience? In fact how did you write it?

Writing together is quite like a marriage. If you get the right partner and click together, it's a happily ever after. (Yes, you may barf). If you don’t get your ‘one true love’, everything including the book falls apart. Plus, you really need to be thick skinned, be eager to kill your babies (ideas), and be really open to and willing for any and all thoughts. And don’t take any edits personally. Ever.

As for writing itself, we take turns. One of us does a chapter or two at a time and passes it on to the other to read. That person critiques it. When we feel it reads reasonably, the book progresses on to the next chapter. After it is complete, we re-read the book together, two to three times, editing it repeatedly as we go along.

The best thing about two writers together is that one always notices things that the other has missed out, and is always there to shove the lazy one into action.

We both don’t care for outlines so that works to our advantage. We let the story dictate us and go where the characters want to take it.

Are any of the characters influenced by you two? What makes them and your book different from other stories out there?

To be honest, there are traces of us in every character. But if we had to pin it down, it would be the two main characters. Demon is a lot like Humeira and Aoife has a lot of Shamila in her. In fact, we routinely joke around by referring to each other as Aoife or Demon (or rather our desi version of Eefnee and Deemnee).

And for the record, Aoife is a real name and it’s pronounced Ee-faa.

We can assure you that there is no other book quite like ours in the fantasy genre out there in the market for sure!

When we started writing, we didn’t think we would use our culture and heritage as reference points for the book. Since the language medium was English, a Western backdrop to the story came naturally. But as the book progressed, we saw it as an opportunity for fusion. That’s why we have a mix of Greek, Latin and South Asian flavors. This is one of the many things that makes the series stand apart from other regular fantasy books in the market. Even most of the names have been well thought out. We created a new language just for the book as well. Akina is structurally rooted in Urdu and Persian but of course, we played with it a lot and had fun coining new terms.

What are your plans now?

We just finished book 2 in the series and got it out in the market too. It’s called Rise of the Syhlain. We wanted more women, and that too Pakistani women to be a part of our project, so the cover was hand painted by a Pakistani artist Huda Jilani.

Rise of the Syhlain takes off from where Cursed be the Syhlain ended. Aoife and Demon come off as more well-rounded and grounded. So far, the response has been great and we will start writing the last part of the trilogy soon. Sadly it is only available in the US for now and can only be ordered online in Pakistan.