Nura and the Immortal Palace
Clever, ambitious Nura lives in the fictional Pakistan town of Meerabagh. Since her father died she has worked mining mica to help support her family – her mother, her three younger siblings and herself. In the mine too, toils her best friend Faisal, often teased for his stutter by other child workers. Nura’s mother dreams of sending her to school, but Nura is more interested in treating herself to gulab jamun from her wages and more important saving up to send her younger siblings to school so they can break free of the family’s cycle of poverty. She also wants to find the legendary Demon’s Tongue buried deep within the mines; so doing would certainly solve all the family’s money issues.
When a terrible accident happens burying among others Faisal, Nura goes to the rescue and in so doing she digs too deep causing the earth to collapse over her friend. Digging even deeper, even further to save him, lands Nula in the realm of the jinn, at the opulent Sijj Palace, a jinn hotel. There she finds Faisal, and the two face trickery from the evil jinn, who offer luxuries untold and attempt to manipulate human children into labouring for the hotel; indeed nothing is as it seems. Can Nura outsmart the jinn, thus saving herself and her friends?
Into her wonderful storyworld building, in addition to friendship and magic the author skilfully weaves observations on child labour and poverty, and systems that maintain inequality that are relevant today. The narrative is fast paced and full of action, and with a wealth of lyrical imagery, this superb fantasy shines like the mica glistening in the sunlight that Nura mentions as the story starts. The cover illustration by Hazem Asif is fabulous too. I can’t wait to see what this debut author writes next.
(In her note at the end of the thought-provoking book, she talks of both child poverty in today’s world and of the importance of education as a way of escape from poverty, discrimination and war.)