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Mahvesh Murad

Under Neon and Starlight: Revealing the Table of Contents for The Outcast Hours

The Outcast Hours is only our second anthology, but it is fair to say we already have a bit of a shtick: we like diverse thinking on universal themes.

With The Djinn Falls in Love, it was, well—djinn. One of the few truly global ‘creatures’ of lore. With The Outcast Hours, we wanted something that was equally relevant: something that every culture experiences. Rather than raid the bestiary again, we went higher concept—not to a particular myth, but to the source of myths. Something that everyone, everywhere, shares: the night. We all experience it; it affects everyone, everywhere, in every culture.

So that’s half the shtick: the universal theme.

The other half is where the real work comes in. To us, there’s no point in reading the same story two dozen times. The joy of something universal is that everyone approaches it from a different angle. To capture the breadth, the depth, the vastness that is the ‘night’, we needed wildly different perspectives. The Table of Contents represents our best efforts to capture this range.

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The Voices in Our Heads: Someone Like Me by M.R. Carey

In M.R. Carey’s latest thriller, Someone Like Me, we first meet sweet, docile single mother Liz, as she tries to assert herself yet again to her aggressive ex-husband. After years of enduring an abusive marriage, Liz was finally able to divorce her husband and keep her children safe from what she feared would be potential danger to them, too. But the shared custody of the two children still causes much friction, with Liz’s ex Marc often pushing boundaries.

(Warning: the novel [and review] include scenes of domestic violence.)

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Of Epic Girl Gangs: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Set in an alternate Scandinavia, The Boneless Mercies has been touted as a gender-swapped quest fantasy loosely based on Beowulf. But given it’s a loose reinterpretation and the original may not be familiar to many YA readers, let’s leave that aside, because The Boneless Mercies exists very much as its own unique narrative, set in its own unique world and with its own intriguing cast of female characters. Beowulf was very much a man’s story—its female characters were either monsters or trophies. But here, Tucholke ensures that her female characters are everything: heroes, killers, witches, leaders, lovers, warriors. And yes, even beasts. 

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Rewrite the Book: Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sixteen- year-old Marion arrives at Sawkill Island with her mother and her elder sister, all three of them still in shock and traumatised after the death of Marion’s father. Marion became the de facto rock of their little family, tethering their mother and Charlotte together. But Sawkill, which was meant to be a sanctum for them, turns out to be everything but. Sawkill Island is “like this thing, perched out there on the water. A beetle. A monster. Some magical lost place.” The magic, however, isn’t the fun kind.

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The War on Women: Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls

Briseis of Lyrnessus is the teenage queen taken as Achilles’ trophy when his army destroys her town on their way to Troy, after he murders every male in her family—her husband, her father, her brothers, all brutally murdered in front of her. Every women is taken by the army and later distributed amongst the soldiers as spoils of war, with Briseis being given to Achilles, to whom she is expected to submit in every way. Later, there is an argument between Agamemnon and Achilles, which ends with Briseis being taken by Agamemnon as part of his winnings. Women, Pat Barker makes it clear in her new novel The Silence of the Girls, are nothing more than things men use to wield their power.

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Hunting a Legend: And The Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness

In an upside down, topsy turvy yet familiar world in the depths of the ocean, a war has been raging for generations between two species who have always, it seems, hunted one another.  Bathsheba the whale is part of the formidable Captain Alexandra’s pod, part of this endless hunt. But the Captain bears a violent obsession against one particular enemy: the mighty Toby Wick, a man, a monster, a myth and quite possibly the devil himself. Wick has killed countless pods, and has never been found, but Captain Alexandra is certain that she is the one who will end him.

Patrick Ness’ new illustrated novel And the Ocean Was Our Sky is a gorgeous, richly imaginative take on Moby-Dick, with the narrative focus shifting to the perspective of whales hunting humans. “Call me Bathsheba,” begins the story, immediately echoing one of the best known opening lines in literature. But even to those unfamiliar with Moby-Dick, And the Ocean Was Our Sky will  be a haunting and powerful story. 

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Unweaving a Fairy Tale: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem is the daughter of small town Jewish moneylender who isn’t very good at his job. Her father, while “terrible with money,” is “endlessly warm and gentle, and tried to make up for his failings: he spent nearly all of every day out in the cold woods hunting for food and firewood, and when he was indoors where was nothing he wouldn’t do to help.” But living as they do in a tiny town, “unwalled and half nameless,” where “the cold kept creeping out of the woods earlier and earlier,” where the townspeople look down upon them as pariahs, Miryem’s family is pushed to the edge of poverty, as her father eventually lends out all his wife’s dowry and is incapable of bringing any back. While Miryem’s family are on the verge of starvation, and her mother increasingly unwell, the rest of the town fares well on their borrowed coin.

But in Naomi Novik’s standalone novel Spinning Silver, “a moneylender’s daughter, even a bad moneylender’s daughter, learns her numbers,” and on seeing her mother take ill and weaken, Miryem steps up to lay claim to what is owed to her family.

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Of Djinns & Things: The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty

A young hustler on the streets of 18th Century Cairo, Nahri lives by her wits and has always done so alone, using certain special abilities that help her get by. She can, most of the time, tell if someone is sick, or what ails them. She has “yet to come upon a language she didn’t immediately understand,” can sometimes help those who are unwell, and seems to be able to heal quickly herself. Nahri uses her strange abilities to take what she can from whom she can, trying to build up a little store of cash so she may one day train to be a real healer.

But one ordinary day, what should be a run of the mill fake exorcism ends up going horribly wrong when the young girl Nahri is pretending to help turns out to be actually possessed by a djinn—an ifrit who recognises something special in Nahri.

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The Gods of War: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi’s Tool of War, the third book in the Ship Breaker trilogy, following Ship Breaker and The Drowned Cities, follows the augmented soldier Tool in his attempt to find and fight his creators. Tool’s journey has been a violent, angry one, and in this final book, we meet him as he is leading an army of child soldiers win the war in the semi-submerged cities along the Atlantic coast. Tool’s new pack have been helping him take control of the area, crushing the other warlords with just as much violence as they’ve inflicted over the years. Tool is suddenly faced with something he’s never known—relative peace, and a need for his leadership in rebuilding the drowned cities.

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Is It Any Wonder: Neil Jordan’s Carnivalesque

Neil Jordan’s Carnivalesque gets straight to the point: 14-year-old Andy goes to the carnival with his parents. They haven’t really been getting along, things can be stressful but everything is about average in their lives—they don’t seem to be particularly special and at this point, neither does Andy. In the Hall of Mirrors, though, something strange happens—the mirrors seem to be portals of sorts, and Andy is sucked in through them, and trapped. No one knows he’s missing, because a doppelgänger of him walks away from the mirror, joins his parents, and goes off home, leaving Andy behind in this strange new world.

Andy remains stuck inside the mirror until one of the carnival’s aerialists, Mona, somehow pulls him out, names him Dany, and fairly seamlessly absorbs him into her carny family. Mona looks like a teenager, but of course in the carnival, nothing is quite what it seems, and it isn’t long before Andy starts to work this out, as he realises that the rope he has been given to hold Mona safe is instead tethering her to the ground while she flies across the trapeze. Andy learns more about the origins of the carnival, about the strange “mildew” that grows on the rusty metal of the equipment and how it has a special purpose. Mona and the other carnies are ancient, magical beings, the last of a dying race who still have one terrible enemy to contend with. Andy, it seems, is much more than an average boy trapped in a mirror—he may be more special than he knows. While the changeling Andy isn’t quite right, the “real” Andy (who is now Dany) does not remain the same ordinary boy either. For all his star-struck wonder at the marvels of the carnival, it becomes evident to the carnies and to him that his being at the carnival was nothing random.

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The Jinn Are Everywhere (Including In These 6 Books)

Jinn are everywhere. Every culture has them; they lurk in every literary tradition.

On one hand, it makes collecting a list of “jinn” reading an impossible challenge—there’s simply no way to represent all the ways in which the jinn appear. It is the sort of task that, in a classic story, the feisty protagonist would trick a jinn into solving instead.

On the other hand, the size of the task is so impossible that we needn’t even attempt it. Wherever you are, whatever you read—rest assured that there’s a jinn for you.

So rather than trying to cover the vast range of jinn in books, we’ve selected a few of our very favourites—fiction and non-fiction, old and new, fantastical and literary.

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The Trouble With Being Queen: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Marisa Meyer is known for her Young Adult fairy tale retellings. Her first novel was the NaNoWriMo phenomenon Cinder, the story of a cyborg sort-of Cinderella and the start of the Lunar Chronicles sequence, which includes new versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meyer’s work, however, is very loosely based on the fairy tales—she develops new worlds, brings in new characters and does not use the classic familiar plot lines. With Heartless, her first stand alone novel, Meyer takes us back to when the violent, furious Queen of Hearts was a warm, sweet young girl who wanted something more—albeit smaller, simpler and full of sugar and butter—than what was on offer for her.

Catherine is just another young well to do girl with hopes and dreams. Society demands that her hopes and dreams be specifically about getting married to the wealthiest man she can, but she has other ideas. Even though it seems that the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom is rather interested in her, Catherine would rather be baking professionally. She and her best friend and lady’s maid have grand plans of running a bakery in town, though they have yet to work out just how they will manage this financially and remain socially acceptable—this is the Kingdom of Hearts, where societal norms are Victorian, where magic is part of the every day, where Catherine’s most vivid dreams lead to great trees of fruits and roses growing in her room, and where the King would very much like her to be the Queen of Hearts, and give up this silly nonsense of selling cakes for ever.

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Midnight in Karachi Episode 69: Sami Shah’s “Fire Boy Interlude C”

Welcome back to Midnight in Karachi, a weekly podcast about writers, publishers, editors, illustrators, their books and the worlds they create, hosted by Mahvesh Murad.

This week’s episode is a reading of a story from the world of Fire Boy—an urban fantasy set in contemporary Karachi, and writer and comedian Sami Shah’s first novel. Sami’s memoir I, Migrant, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and the Russell Prize for Humour Writing. You can find more of his writing here.

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Series: Midnight in Karachi Podcast

Midnight in Karachi Episode 68: Naomi Alderman

Welcome back to Midnight in Karachi, a weekly podcast about writers, publishers, editors, illustrators, their books and the worlds they create, hosted by Mahvesh Murad.

Zombies Run! co-creator and one of Granta’s Best of British Novelists Naomi Alderman is on the podcast this week to talk about her new novel The Power, in which women develop the ability to electrocute at will. She talks about Sultana’s Dream, whether violence is gendered, writing both games and ‘literary’ fiction, Bob Dylan and the Nobel, and that permanent question—The Patriarchy: why?

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Series: Midnight in Karachi Podcast

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