Wednesday, 22 June 2022

#bookreview: These Numbered Days | Anna E. Collins

These Numbered DaysThese Numbered Days by Anna E. Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What does it mean to stay?

Annie Wolff has returned to Snohomish after eight years to make sure that her now-teenage children, Connor and Grace, are doing okay and are being taken care of by their aunt and uncle after the death of their father. She plans to quietly check on them, and then just as quietly leave--but her plans are thrown into disarray when Connor confronts her and asks her to stay.

So she stays, while planning to leave again. Yet the longer she stays, the more she finds that the picture-perfect family she'd always imagined for her estranged family is far from the truth. And the more secrets she uncovers, the more she realises that as broken as she is, she may still be the best person to take care of her children.

These Numbered Days is a story about living with depression. There's a bleakness that seeps out of Annie's point of view, revealing the dark days of her past. There's a sense of hopelessness, of knowing that this curse runs through the women in her family, and the expectation that one day it's going to take over Annie's life as well and there is nothing she can do to stop it.

And yet, it's also a story of hope and grit. Of fighting for better days, fighting for herself and for her family. It isn't a smooth journey. With every step forward comes a new setback. But with every setback, Annie finds a new way forward--with the support of her children and her landlord, Wic Dubray.

What I loved most about this book was the family dynamics. It isn't perfect--in fact, many times, it feels like they just keep breaking apart. But there is a raw honesty in how they try to reconnect with each other despite their hurts and imperfections. I'm a fan of second chances and third chances and all the chances--and this story is really about that: finding the strength to forgive and support each other, not holding their past failures against them.

I wasn't so stoked on the romance, but that was mostly because I'm just going meh, does there really need to be a romance? Must she really have a man in her life to be complete?

Yet the truth is, she doesn't have to do it alone.

You don't have to be perfect to stay.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Monday, 13 June 2022

#musicmonday: There Is a River | Jars of Clay

for all of your tears

are the wages for things you have done

and all of those nights

spent alone in the darkness of your mind

give it up, let go

these are things you were never meant to shoulder

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

#bookreview: Buried Talents: Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's Call | Susan Harris Howell

Buried Talents: Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's CallBuried Talents: Overcoming Gendered Socialization to Answer God's Call by Susan Harris Howell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buried Talents was birthed from the question: If God calls women to pastor, why don't more churches have women leaders? 

And so Susan Harris Howell sets out to tell us why, or in her own words: to expose the subtle forms of socialization that pull women away from, and move men toward, leadership.

The title is tied to the parable of the talents and draws on Kristina LaCelle-Peterson's book, Liberating Tradition: Women's Identity and Vocation in Christian Perspective, which asks:
"Would the returning master of the household be mollified if the excuse for burying one's talent was, 'I got married', or 'My husband didn't want me to'?"
Chapters 1 to 3 cover what gendered socialization looks like in the different stages of growth from childhood to adulthood, how it affects the development of a child (whether male or female), and simply how pervasive it is even if it is unintentional. Even where parents may proactively reject gendered socialization in the home, by the time a child goes out into the world, they will be exposed to such messaging. It can also be as subtle as what stories get highlighted in the media, where "Men are the norm; women, the exception. Men accomplish in ways that are notable; women, not so much."

One thing I found myself ruminating over in these chapters was the point Howell made about identity and how many women, especially in church settings, do not have an identity of their own--because boys are told that achievement is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, but girls are often told that whatever they do, they will need to sacrifice it for their spouse. Why then pursue something only to have to give it up? She ties this back to the Fall, saying that "the imbalance in the husband-wife relationship is the natural consequence of sin", later saying:
"In the light of this interpretation, men feeling good about themselves when they are better than women, and women not using God-given abilities to their fullest in order to please men makes perfect sense. "
That's one interpretation I have not really considered before.

Chapter 4 is a fictional case study of how gendered socialization often plays out in real life. I found it to be very realistic --but felt that a concluding paragraph might have helped me understand what these stories were for. As it is, they just...ended and were never referred to again. And so...?

Chapters 5 to 7 offer suggestions and practical steps on how to overcome gendered socialization starting with the home and our personal lives. It also covers the wider societal spheres of church, work, and businesses, and how one can actively push back against gendered messaging, sometimes by just being persistently present.

I think I expected a little more exposition or teaching on what the Bible says about gender equality, but Howell's target appears to be egalitarian Christians; in talking about building a support network, Howell does advise readers to consider whether [a complementarian] church is the best place to serve, worship, and grow. It's also not written specifically to women--some of the suggestions cover how husbands can support their wives and work towards an equitable arrangement that ultimately allows both of them to live their callings.

While Buried Talents is written for Christians and is published by a Christian press, I felt that it could also be read and appreciated by a general readership that is working towards gender equality at work and in the home. Though there are some sections that are specifically targetted towards Christians and the church (especially in relation to pastoring or church leadership), almost everything else is generally applicable to pursuing gender equality and more women in positions of leadership: just exchange "God's call" for "dreams" or "ambitions".

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Wednesday, 25 May 2022

#bookreview: All the Seas in the World | Guy Gavriel Kay

All the Seas of the WorldAll the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was excited to start reading this because I remembered liking A Brightness Long Ago very much, back when I read it. What I didn't account for was the fact that although by objective time, having read that one in April 2019 isn't that long ago in book publishing time, I have forgotten everything I loved about that one except for vague impressions and, of course, my own review.

Which made for a frustrating feeling of not quite getting the impact that I should be getting out of this book. Sure, it's wonderfully written: a brilliant tapestry of many different yet ordinary lives that affect each other, of futures that shift and change with each person's rather humdrum decisions, whether they are the ex-slave Lenia Serrano, her Kindath merchant partner Rafel ben Natan, or the famed Folco d'Acorsi. I have also not caught up on any of the other stories set in this world--which, if looking at other reviews, might also have impacted my reading experience. This is despite the fact that All the Seas of the World is touted as a standalone. It may have been meant to be, but it didn't always feel that way.

All the Seas of the World starts with an assassination-turned-heist with a side of murder and unintended consequences. It ends with a siege and battle. In between, it explores the intersections of faith and race with identity--and how changing one's faith and name could change your fortunes, but also how faith is often tied to race and vice versa. It also looks at fate and timing, and how being somewhere at a certain time could make or break your future--and how our reactions and unexplainable impulses can set us on a different path altogether. But ultimately, it is also a story of revenge, of people being driven by revenge, and that thirst for retribution for past wrongs.

Like A Brightness Long Ago, the narrative shifts between POVs, though the majority of it is in Lenia & Rafel's POV (third person). But added to the mix is a first-person narrative from Danio which jumps out at the reader suddenly with no explanation, musings from the dying, an omnipotent narrator with Opinions, as well as strange foretellings of what is to come. I remember some of this from A Brightness Long Ago; I feel that I was okay with it then, but there's something about it that irks me now. Then again, taste is a subjective and ever-changing thing.

All in all, All the Seas of the World is a good, thoughtful read, but probably best read and enjoyed in relation to his earlier books. It may come across as a little slow and ponderous, though it is definitely not as repetitive as some of Brandon Sanderson's narratives.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Sunday, 15 May 2022

Sesi Seni with #PenangArtDistrict

I recently sat down with Swarna from the George Town Literary Festival to talk about my writing journey.

It actually came out a few days ago but I was too scared to watch it until now. heh.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

#bookreview: Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man | Guvna B

Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the ManUnspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man by Guvna B.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interspersed with Guvna B's own lyrics as well as his Instagram posts (unfortunately only the captions made it into the digital ARC; I assume the pictures made it into print?), reading Unspoken: Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man felt like sitting in Isaac's (Guvna B's real name) living room, listening to him ramble on about life, grief, faith, and therapy.

It may seem a little weird that I picked this up for review (thanks Netgalley!) since I am not black, British, or male. I don't even listen to his songs; I find rap music a little weird. But the church I attended in Uxbridge had invited him to one of their youth events in 2019 (which is how I remembered the name), so I was a little curious.

The super-long title makes it sound like it's going to be this thesis, but the book reads more like a memoir, with Isaac dropping all pretensions, even his stage name. It centres around his upbringing on a council estate in East London and his grief at the loss of his father and two close friends in the span of two years. It's also mixed up with race relations in the UK, clashes of cultural and familial expectations, and the burden of fame, to some extent. Yet it's conversational and extremely relatable, like an elder brother sharing a personal story.

Some quotes I found super relatable even as someone who's not anywhere near the book's target market:

[For the Asians (lol)]
I was comprised neither of flesh nor blood but of parental aspiration...

[For the artists]
I now know that what was happening was that I was trying so hard to put out what I thought people wanted to hear, without ever stopping to ask myself what I wanted to say, what was in my heart...
I started comparing myself to other people, which made me feel even worse.
Advice to anyone reading this: Never compare.

[For grieving Christians]
'Within modern Christianity,' [Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury] said, 'we are really bad at lament and protest; really bad at saying, this is terrible, this is wrong, this is awful; and we're really bad at saying, "God I am really mad about this. I am so angry about this. God, I think you've let me down".'
What the psalm teaches us is that it is okay to rage against God, even though it does not come easily to us. It is better to rage against him than to shut him out completely.
In showing our true selves to God, he can reveal his true self to us. That is why lamenting and protesting in times of deep pain is as important as praising and celebrating in times of happiness. Learning to lament and protest is a journey towards better understanding God's love.


To be honest, while the storytelling prose is what makes the book, there were times when it felt like the author rambled on too far and then came back again with an, "oh yes, this was where I was going with this story". At the end of it all, he ties all the stories and the almost-devastation that came from those tragic events back to his own response, which was:

This ingrained sense of masculinity led me to believe that the only emotion permissible for me to reveal was rage. I could be angry, upset, hurt, or sad and then punch something, because that is what men did. Bare my teeth. Tighten my fist. Either that or grin and bear it. Handle it. Withstand the pain.


Overall, Unspoken is lyrically written, honest and heartfelt.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from [] via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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I didn't know this song was by Guvna B!

Saturday, 30 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: Z for Zen

It has been awfully difficult to figure out a post for Z. I was thinking of going for ZZZ (sleep) but that was just weird. I’ve got nothing to do with animals (zoo) or even chaos and disorder. So I figured I’d go with zen, in the “peaceful and calm” meaning of the word, and give you a little excerpt of how and where Yosua finds some peace in the midst of the storm. 


Chapter 7 excerpt

The next few days pass in a blur. In the early mornings, before the castle wakes, I find myself sneaking out to the market, Relka trailing behind me. Relka has taken to sleeping outside my bedroom, no matter how many times I tell him I’m fine, I just need to be alone. I do need to be alone. I need to light the censers, to let the incense rise to heaven, to scream out my anger and fear and weariness to Kudus. I need to pray over their souls, releasing them to Kudus. 

O Kudus, please. Grant me strength. Grant me peace.

The Tawanan are a form of peace, if only because of their familiarity. They congregate in the northwest corner of the market, where several have set up their own stalls. I’ve visited them often enough during ‘market inspections’, just to see how they’re doing. 

The first morning I appear after my parents’ deaths, Uncle Dan stares at me wordlessly. He’s thin and grizzled, looking like he hasn’t slept in days. We’re not related by blood, though I call him Uncle. He was one of Ayah’s closest friends in Maha, always coming in and out of our quarters. I lift my hands, shrug. He nods and puts me to work. Relka gawks for a moment before he too gets ordered about. It takes Azman half an hour to blaze in, two Royal Guards on his tail, in a panic. Uncle Dan shakes his head but ignores their presence, as does everyone else, eventually.


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And that's a wrap for the A to Z Challenge! Thank you for surviving this whole month with me! 

Every year, I say this is too much, I'm never going to do it again, but...I obviously can't keep myself from it for too long. I hope you've enjoyed this little peek into the Absolution series. If you'd like a look at an earlier form of this series, you can check out my 2018 challenge posts. hahaha. I believe Yosua had yet to exist, Mikal was still called Adam, and this book was supposed to be about Rahsia. *snort*

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


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The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Friday, 29 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: Y for Yosua

Of course, a whole blog series on The Tale of the Hostage Prince has to talk about its main protagonist by name at some point! 

Yosua ayell Garett, in my head, is a bit of a walking contradiction. Putting aside the rags-to-riches, slave-to-prince narrative, Yosua is soft, innocent, and sweet, and often overly trusting of family and friends. Yet at the same time, he’s had to learn to be hard, crafty, suspicious, and street-smart in order to survive in both Maha and Bayangan. 

My original envisioning of Amok was to split the POV between Mikal and Yosua, but I eventually decided that making it Mikal’s story made more narrative sense. But I’d already fallen in love with Yosua enough that I had to give him his own story, hence this book that doesn’t quite fit within the overall series arc. 

Trivia:

Yosua is named after the most prominent Sultan of Terang. It’s noted in Amok that after Raja Muda Mahmud performed his penance and fulfilled the Covenant of Salt, “A new priest-king, the famous Sultan Yosua…ascends the throne with a Secretkeeper wife. It’s the first and only time that the leadership of all Terang was concentrated in a ruling pair.” It’s this fulfilment of the covenant with Kudus that grants Terang their magical powers. 

Interestingly enough, this is also what pushed Harett Baya to leave, bringing those who don't believe in Kudus out from Terang to form his own kingdom of Bayangan: “There are fantastic sea battles up and down the straits accompanied by dramatic declarations, until Harett finally convinces Sultan Yosua to leave them alone.”

Here are a couple of reviews from readers who probably love Yosua as much, if not more, than I do.

Sholee’s Sphere | Mermaird 


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


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The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Thursday, 28 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: X for Xenophobia

Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. And as we’ve seen throughout this month’s posts, xenophobia runs (not so) subtly through The Tale of the Hostage Prince, whether it’s the Bayangans’ inability to fully accept the Tawanan back into society or the way they reject their young “foreign” ruler’s efforts to effect changes in the law. 

It comes back down to emigration and exile, and the whole idea of being a foreigner even in your homeland. 

In many ways, it also mirrors the complex relationship I have with Malaysia. “What makes one a Malaysian?” is a question that has been explored many, many times, with varying conclusions. Because the obvious one, being born in Malaysia to Malaysian parents, sometimes doesn’t seem to be enough in light of your race or religion.  How can one be xenophobic against people you grew up amongst?

And yet, some can. Because we live in our own comfortable bubbles.   



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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


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The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: W for War

What Yosua wants is peace. What Uncle Jeffett wants is retribution.

It feels like war always wins, violence always wins. There is only so much you can do in peaceful protest until it feels like you need to strike back if only to protect yourself. 

And so Yosua cannot step down because he knows that the minute he does, Uncle Jeffett—or whoever he backs—is going to restart the war.


Chapter 2 excerpt

“So tell me, Han, which am I? The frog under the tempurung? Or the one afraid of the rain?” I raise an eyebrow at him, leaning back so I can watch both his face and his hands.

“Neither. It wasn’t meant as a statement.” He has the grace to look a little guilty. “I wasn’t, Yos. I wouldn’t. You’d never invite me back again and then where would I be?”

“Living it up in Maha, I suppose. Or playing raja in the kampungs around Bayangan.” 

“Honest, Yos, I wasn’t mocking you. It was just a funny story!”

I sigh. “I know that. But only because I know you. Because you’re my friend. You are my friend, aren’t you?”

“Of course!” He looks affronted. 

“I don’t know, Han. I don’t know anymore. Are they my friends or are they just trying to curry favour? Is Az always with me because he enjoys my company, or because he’s my guard? If he’s guarding me, is it out of altruism and goodwill or to preserve his family’s standing? Do you pass messages between Mikal and me because you are a trustworthy courier and my friend, or because you want money and a way to blackmail me?”

Han looks horrified. “I think you should renounce the throne and go back to living a normal person’s life.”

“I…I can’t.” I bury my face in my hands.

“You can’t or you won’t?”

“I can’t and I won’t.” I gather my courage to look up at him again. He’s got curiosity written all over his face. I’m relieved that it’s not judgement. “Who else is there, Han? My father has refused the crown and my uncle has retired to his estate. If I step down, there’s not only going to be great unrest in Bayangan, but whoever puts themselves forward will probably start another war with Terang and we’d be right back where we started. I won’t let that happen. I can’t.”


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


###

The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: V for Vibes

I’ve been pretty stumped about what to write for V, so I figured I’d go for the vibes.

Unfortunately, it seems I never made a musical mood board for The Tale of the Hostage Prince at any point in the writing process (there’s one for Amok), but I think maybe this one might fit.




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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


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The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Monday, 25 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: U for Uncle Jeffett

I have a lot of conflicting feelings about Uncle Jeffett. On one hand, he’s obviously the Villain (or at least Antagonist) in this story, because much of what he wants is in opposition to what Yosua wants. Yet at the same time, what they both really want (even though they can’t agree as to how to get it or what it should look like) is peace and prosperity for Bayangan. 

The thing about Jeffett is that he has ultimately shaped Bayangan a great deal just by being the one to hold the kingdom together when their Raja was killed and the Raja Muda (Garett) was taken away. If anything, he deserves a little honour for what he did in the past, even if his current actions rub against the grain. 

Here’s a snippet from Amok, where Permaisuri Layla—Garett’s younger sister and the reigning queen of Bayangan at the time—explains what Jeffett has done for her and Bayangan. 


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Amok, Chapter 9 excerpt

Note: this scene is in Mikal’s point of view; Ayahanda in this scene refers to Mikal's father, Sultan Simson

Bayangan soldiers come and go, piling up treasures from the houses they’ve plundered, bringing in children in chains. 

“Why are you doing this?” Ayahanda asks, breaking out of his stupor at the cries of a young girl. “Why do you do this, Layla? Take out your revenge on me. Let the children go.”

A soldier strikes him on the mouth. “Show some respect!”

Ayahanda spits out blood. 

Permaisuri Layla stands over him. “Why should I let the children go? Did you let our children go? Did you spare any of our people when we cried for mercy? You took our children, our young men and women, leaving us with nothing.”

Ayahanda drops his head. 

“As you held them to the fire, so we will hold you to the fire. I should kill you and leave your son behind bereft and orphaned like you left me, but I’ll not make the same mistake you made. I won’t leave behind a child who will come for revenge. By the time I’m done with Maha, it will be nothing but ashes. No one will be left to avenge you.”

Then why leave me alive? Why not just kill me?

Garett places a hand on her shoulder. “Layla, please—”

“No, Garett, I will not be placated. I want them both to suffer. I will have my revenge for what they have done to me, for what they did to you.”

“Layla, nothing good will come of this.”

“You weren’t there, Garett. You weren’t there having to bury our parents, having to bury our brother. You weren’t there for the devastation of Bayangan. If it weren’t for Jeffett, I wouldn’t even be alive. He took me in and raised me as his own—then restored the throne to me. Don’t tell me what I can or cannot do, not when you have given up your right to the throne. Not when you’re a coward who has tied yourself to this spineless pretender. What is he now? He hides behind his god and his witchcraft and his spirits. Cut off his hair and what do you have left? A shell. Not even a man!”

Garett flushes and looks away. “I did what I had to do to keep our people alive.”

“You gave in. You even let him name your child after them.” She throws a disdainful glance at Yosua, who’s watching from a distance.

“You changed our family name—”

“To honour Jeffett Ishi, the man who saved me. Who stewarded Bayangan back from the brink. You gave up everything.”

“What would you have had me do? Sacrifice a name or sacrifice a people? A name is a small price to pay for peace.”


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Early in The Tale of the Hostage Prince, when Yosua admits that he has trouble changing a law without backlash from the Majlis or the Bayangans, Uncle Jeffett says this:

Quoted text from Jeffett Ishi in the Tale of the Hostage Prince: “Everyone thinks to themselves, ‘if I were in charge, I’d do better. I’d change this and that and everyone will accept it and prosper’! But when they are given the responsibility, they soon find that it’s not so easy to change things. It’s not so easy to get people to accept what is good for them. Especially when they don’t think it will benefit them.”

...which pretty much sums up his philosophy on leadership/statesmanship. And that's the chilling part. Uncle Jeffett truly believes that the end he’s working for really does justify the means.


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


###

The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Saturday, 23 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: T for Tuah

Che Carla Tuah has a minor appearance in Amok, but it’s her family that becomes a little more prominent in the Tale of the Hostage Prince

Her grandnephew, Azman Tuah, is Yosua’s new best friend in Bayangan, someone who he gets into trouble with, but who also acts as his bodyguard.


Chapter 1 excerpt

I am halfway across the hall when Azman intercepts me. 

“You know, of all your Mahan ideas, Yosua, I think this one is the best,” he says, waving his glass in a circle.

“This one?”

“Dinner entertainment! Do you know how boring it is to just sit and talk politics all the time? At least this way, you bring some culture to the nobility. Some of them are such boors.”

I grin. “That’s not a nice thing to say about your peers, Az.”

He pretends to be solemn. “Ampun, Tuanku.”

For a moment, Azman’s apology sounds almost jeering. Ayah’s mood is setting me on edge. I look over to where he’s back to looking at his papers, Ibu clucking her tongue in exasperation. 

Stop taking offense where there is none. 

“They’re still calling you the Mahan Raja behind your back, you know,” Azman lowers his voice, “but maybe we can build you up to be a patron of the arts. ‘The Cultured Raja.’ Do you think that sounds good?”

“How do you plan on doing that?” It’s an interesting idea—if it works. If it ends up improving instead of worsening my public image.

Mikal used to be irked at not being officially recognised as the Raja Muda of Terang because he hadn’t received the Mahan gift of the Amok Strength. Yet here I am, officially crowned as Raja of Bayangan—and I still have to worry about how the people perceive me. Right before Mikal left, he acknowledged my bloodline, addressed me by my title, as uncertain as it was then—shaky as it still is now. He addressed me as an equal for the first time: Raja of Bayangan. It feels strange, this title, like I’m wearing a skin not mine, jubah tailored to another’s measurements. 

Still, it’s not those last words that echo in my thoughts. It’s what he said before that that loops in my head: I hope you discover who you need to be. 

Who do I need to be?

I miss what Azman is saying. He looks a bit disgruntled when he realises I haven’t registered a word he said. 

“I’m sorry, Az,” I say, faking a yawn. “I think our little adventure this afternoon has tired me out. I haven’t been able to concentrate.”

“I hope I didn’t make you ill by letting you ride in the rain,” he says with immediate concern.

“You? Letting me? If anything, I should apologise for dragging you out in the rain.”

“We’re lucky we didn’t get separated, like those frogs.” Azman laughs and I laugh along with him, ignoring the tension that’s coursing through my body.


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The thing is…for all they are friends (and they really are!) Azman is also something of a rival—as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, if anything were to happen to Yosua, Azman could very well be the next Raja. 

The Tuahs are so named for dual reasons: first, because it means good luck, and second because of Hang Tuah


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


###

The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Friday, 22 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: S for Succession

In B for Bayangan, I talked a little about the kingdom itself and said I’d go a little more into the Succession rules under S.

Here are a couple of excerpts from The Tale of the Hostage Prince that explains how the next Raja of Bayangan is selected. 

Chapter 4 excerpt

Succession in Bayangan is expected, but not guaranteed. Unlike Terang, where the throne is always passed to the firstborn male, the Bayangan Raja’s successor is elected from a pool of candidates who fulfil certain criteria. 

First, they must have been present at the prior Raja’s death and funeral. Second, the candidate should be a prominent figure in court life or be well-known by the citizens of Bayangan. Third, and last, is that there must be a consensus or majority vote for his or her rule. 

This was one of my forefather’s methods to help Bayangan break away from Maha’s dynasties—their dictatorship, he called it—where the Sultan’s family ruled with an iron fist. Yet over the years, things have drifted. Terang instituted the Majlis Maha, a council of seven, to curb the power of the Sultan; in Bayangan, while theoretically the Majlis DiRaja can depose the Raja if he falls out of favour, in practice the Raja does whatever he wants with little repercussions. It has also become almost a given that whoever the Raja appoints as his Raja Muda—normally his eldest son—will be voted in as the next Raja upon his death. 


Chapter 8 excerpt

I swallow hard. He’s right. The rule of Bayangan has historically alternated between three prominent families in the Majlis DiRaja: mine, Uncle Jeffett’s and Azman’s—the Bayas, the Ishis, and the Tuahs. Uncle Jeffett and Azman were not around when Aunt Layla died, so their candidacy defaulted on the first point—but they would both be eligible if I were to be deposed now. Other names have been brought up since then, but none that have been from families prominent, or strong, enough to gather majority support.  


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


###

The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Thursday, 21 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: R for Relka

After all the fancy explanations of where I got (quite a lot) of names, I will go ahead and admit that Relka was a placeholder name that I never got round to replacing, and was created solely out of “let’s simply put these syllables together” and then “it’s too much effort to find another meaningful name now”. (Isn’t writing fun?)

But if you google it, it’s apparently a real name? Or at least a quick search gives me:

I don’t recall ever reading the Hines book, so it’s likely more serendipity than any subconscious pulling of names from other fiction. 

Relka is a new character in The Tale of the Hostage Prince, a servant who plays pretty much the same role Yosua used to play for Mikal. Or basically, leverage. 


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


###

The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: Q for Quills and that pesky thing called anachronism

The problem with setting the Absolution series in a magical Nusantara with no exact corresponding real-world time period is that pesky thing called anachronism. I mean, obviously, it’s fantasy, and it’s not historical fiction, so I could really, really fudge a lot of details if I wanted to.

Which I did.

I think I did pretty well, and there’s nothing too noticeably advanced for the apparent time period/setting.

Except that in my original draft, I had Jeffett pass Yosua a pen. Because he had to write stuff. I mean, obviously, they had writing utensils, I just didn’t know what kind.

(During yesterday's write-in, I had someone in 1880s Indonesia pull out a glass jar, and then I went but wait, would glass jars be easily obtained at that time?? Because I know universities and stuff in the UK were already preserving specimens in glass jars, but a common woman in a tiny village in Indonesia?? Probably wouldn’t have that on hand. Unless magic. HMMM MAGIC)

So yeah, seeing that Yosua is Raja and all, I decided to give him a fancy quill and ink instead.


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If you've read Amok, I have a huge favour to ask! 

Amok is eligible for the Realm Makers Readers' Choice Award, so I'd be honoured if you could add in your nomination.

My critique group partner made a graphic of all the books in our group that are eligible this year! In case you were looking for other books to nominate. Nominations are due 23 April.


Nominate here!


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


###

The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: P for Paderi, the Perantaraan Gift, and Suci

Chapter 2 excerpt

Before I can get too comfortable, there’s a light rap on the door. I jump to my feet and pull it open. Ibu steps in. 

“I didn’t expect you to still be here.” I step closer to give her a hug.

“Your Ayah and I will be heading home soon. I thought I’d say good night. We didn’t get to talk much over dinner.”

“Why don’t you stay the night?”

She smiles wryly. “You know why.”

I do. After the decades my mother spent as a hostage and servant in Maha, she’s had enough of palaces and politics. Now that she has a choice, she stays away as much as she can. I see this reflected in the way I refuse to cut my hair—distancing myself from the way we were reminded of our status, our powerlessness, by our closely-cropped hair. Even though it doesn’t make any difference here. 

And maybe because I still want to feel the Amok Strength— 

The ‘magical’ Strength from Kudus that I’m not supposed to have. I push the thought aside. 

“So, why did you come, Ibu?” I gesture toward a seat.

“To see you, of course,” she replies, but doesn’t move to sit.

I raise an eyebrow. “I was at your house yesterday.”

She shrugs. “Does that mean I can’t see you today? There’s no law against that, is there? Garett didn’t mention it.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t around earlier.” I’d come back from the port, drenched to the skin, to find her waiting in my suite. But by the time I showered and changed, it was time to head down for dinner. 

“Garett had a meeting with Che Carla, Che Willett, and Che Lyn, so I thought I’d accompany him. He’s worried. He won’t tell you, but I don’t think he’s making much progress on that project of yours.”

Only the three main leaders of the Majlis. “Which project? The one where I want to abolish slavery, or the one where I want to implement an easier, faster, and cheaper way to communicate with our closest allies?” 

Besides the Amok Strength in Maha, Terang has priests in Suci with the ability to talk to each other via mirrors across long distances. I don’t need a Temple in Bayangan, but I would like to have a priest stationed here who can set up those Perantaraan calls instead of waiting on letters that take weeks to arrive. 


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Suci, the third city-state of Terang, is basically the religious hub of the Sultanate. That’s where they train the priesthood, and then send them out to the rest of Terang.

I basically created the hierarchy of the Temple, including the names, from the traditional churches, using Malay translations. So you have the diakon (lay deacons), paderi (ordained priests), and the uskups (bishops). The head of the Temple is the Uskup Agung. (I didn’t use “pope” because that’s a Catholic term, and also because pope = paus and whale = ikan paus and I would just... be snickering too much to edit.)

The Gift that Kudus has given to Suci is the Perantaraan Gift—a form of communication, where the paderi (and above) can use mirrors to contact each other over long distances. 

So Yosua really, really wants a paderi in Bayangan, solely for the fact that it would facilitate communications with Terang. Though obviously, having a priest in Bayangan would also make his practice of faith much easier and less lonely. 


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


###

The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Monday, 18 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: O for Obedience

One of the things my (American) critique group brought up was the fact that Yosua, at many times, seemed too obedient. He was supposed to be king, supposed to be issuing orders, but, at the start at least, he was just letting all the “adults” run the show—whether it’s his father, Garett, or his uncle, Jeffett. 

Part of that, I figured, was his upbringing. He was literally brought up as a servant. He was used to obeying if he didn’t want to get into trouble. Then again, he’d also already spent something like two years on the throne at the start of The Tale of the Hostage Prince, so some of that instinct would probably have started to change. 

Yet the other part of it is really the Asian culture of respect for elders. I mention it a few times—between adat (customs) and adab (culture), you’re supposed to respect your elders. Obviously, with Yosua being Raja, the authority of his position should trump that supposed deference. Only...Yosua is too soft to demand it and Jeffett, having been the Regent of Bayangan for two decades prior to this, totally takes advantage of the fact that he still commands their respect—and obedience.

And Yosua never really steps up to wrest it back from him until it’s too late. Here’s a little snippet of what’s going through Yosua’s mind even while his uncle is busy usurping his authority.


Chapter 10 excerpt

But no matter where I turn, Uncle Jeffett is there. He doesn’t accuse me of anything outright, but he inserts himself into every meeting, questions my decisions with each quirk of his eyebrow. I have learnt what statecraft I know from Ayah, from observing Sultan Simson and the Mahan Majlis, where they gently guide the people to the decisions they want made. That doesn’t work here. Every time I pause out of habit, every time I unthinkingly ask a rhetorical question, hoping they will finally get the point, Uncle Jeffett is there, questioning my ‘uncertainty’. Weakening me in their eyes.

And at least half the Majlis look to him every time they are uncertain. He’s still their ex-Regent—his very presence overshadows my authority. And adab demands that I give him face, deference, as my elder, as my senior, as my uncle—that despite what power I hold, I must listen to him with the respect his age and family relations affords him. 

If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that I allowed him to resume his role as Temenggung, instead of urging him to return to his estate. There’s no way to get rid of him now.


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


###

The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Saturday, 16 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: N for Nusantara

I’m tired, so I’m going to cannibalise part of my dissertation essay (EN5528 Assessment 2: Writer’s Journal) for this one, updated with the new name of the novel (i.e., The Weight of Strength changed to Amok).

Setting the Scene: How Centring Nusantara Changed the Backdrop of the Novel

[One] one development in the final version of Amok is its deliberate setting in a magical version of Nusantara, which first started during the planning module. Part of this epiphany came from reading books within the diversity movement, including The Weight of Our Sky (Alkaf, 2019), Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck & Fortune (Lim, 2019), Lost Gods (Yongo, 2018) and Three (Udayasankar, 2015). As I said in a recent blog post:

“…diversity is what people are looking for now. People of colour are looking to see themselves represented in fiction—and it can’t just be the colour of their skin. Not just being the token brown guy. It has to also be the way they speak, the way they mix languages, the thoughts and feelings that cannot be divorced from who they are. 

We read to make sense of the world, to discover who we are. But even more, we write to discover who we are, who we are becoming. Even if it’s only to say that we’re leaving parts of our heritage behind.”  

Amok draws primarily from my background in Malaysia, which has cultural similarities with neighbouring Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia. This sub geographical area, historically referred to as Nusantara or the Malay Archipelago, was once united under the Majapahit and Srivijayan empires, and shares deeper cultural and linguistic roots as compared to the more Sino-influenced members of Southeast Asia such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

My research included reviewing the different ruling dynasties in the Malay Peninsula, with Perak, Johor, and Melaka (Malacca) as the primary royal families of note. I decided to follow the structure of the Malaccan Sultanate, from which the Perak and Johor Sultanates were later established. 

Whilst Malacca had a well-defined hierarchy in their court structure, I decided to group these officials into the “Majlis Maha”, a sort of council instead. A historian would probably point out that the recreation of the court in this manner is inaccurate—I do not claim to have represented them accurately, having taken liberties in my recreation and modernised the setting somewhat from its 14th- to 15th- century roots. It would be good to note here that most medieval fantasy novels are not 100% historically accurate either, just “accurate” within the common tropes or popular imagination of the genre and time period (Douglas, 2019). As Stuart Lee noted in his talk at the 2018 ‘Here Be Dragons’, The Oxford Fantasy Literature Summer School, many writers use the medieval period to avoid infodumps as it is a very familiar starting point (Lee, 2018). This has created a romanticising of the period with accepted deviation of facts, especially since they are often secondary worlds, not historical fiction. 

Using the Malaccan Sultanate as a base also led to some changes in the geography and landscape. In my original imagining, Bayangan and Terang were separated by land and desert. In the final version, the countries are separated by the Straits, somewhat like the Straits of Malacca between the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. This was in direct response to the centricity of sea voyage to the Nusantara mindset. From Majapahit to Srivijaya, and later Singapura (Singapore) and Malacca, these dynasties were founded on control of the seas for trade and commerce. Popular stories revere the legendary Hang Tuah, Malacca’s most prominent Laksamana (Admiral). Unfortunately, I was not able to include that in the novel [Amok], except for Tok Rizal’s slightly deus ex-machina reappearance in Chapter 31.

In keeping with Nusantara setting, I decided to use Malay terms and names in creating the places and the characters. For example, Simson is the translation of Samson in the Malay Bible; Yosua is a form of Joshua. Some of the names are based on the meaning of the words—Maha as a prefix infers “great”, implying the greatness or strength of the capital city and the sultan; Suci means “holy” in a literal reference to it being the holy city and religious centre; the Secretkeeper’s name, “Ramalan”, means “prediction” or “prophecy” in direct relation to her gift of seeing visions. This then, wasn’t the creation of a new language ala Tolkien, but the use of modern Malay in this secondary world. 


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That's it for today!

Head back to my theme reveal and master list.

Go check out the other A to Z Bloggers!


###

The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Absolution, #1.5) 

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


BUY NOW!

International purchases books2read.com/HostagePrince

Friday, 15 April 2022

#AtoZChallenge: M for Mikal, Maha, and the Amok Strength

Yosua’s story really grew from his relationship with Mikal, so I guess it’s fitting that we dedicate a post to talking about Mikal and Maha.

As stated in Justices, Mind-reading and the Secretkeeper, Terang is made up of three city-states: Maha, Suci, and Impian. And each of these city-states has their own leader and their own magical gifts from Kudus.

Kudus’ gift to Maha is the Amok strength. If you’ve been on this blog long enough, you’ll know that it used to be called the “Berserker” strength. Generally, the concept is the same: in the heat of battle, those possessing this power suddenly find themselves imbued with supernatural strength. 

So while Impian is the seat of Justice, Maha is the seat of Power in Terang. (Suci is the seat of Religion, but we’ll bring that up later). Being that I am a firm supporter of separation between state and religion (lol), for all that Terang is a society governed by religious laws, the headship of Terang resides in Maha, with the Sultan of Maha being the Sultan of all Terang as well. 

At any rate, I tied in the provision of this strength with some conditions of the Nazarite vows: not cutting their hair, abstaining from alcohol, keeping themselves consecrated to God (or in this context, Kudus). To maintain some form of order or hierarchy (as there should be in military-type endeavours), the tightest binding of the vows is observed by the Sultan of Maha (and the royal sons). From his headship, the Amok strength then flows to all the others with the gift, with the length of their hair signifying their authority and strength.

The Amok Strength, like the Mind-reading powers, manifests around puberty—indicating when a boy had come of age and grown into manhood. Which was why, Mikal, at fifteen, could not become a “man” in Maha, or gain a rank, or be crowned Raja Muda, because of the pesky reason that…he had not yet received the Amok Strength.

Here’s an excerpt of the opening of Amok, to give you a feel of what Mikal is like.


CHAPTER 1 (excerpt)

I wait. Of course I wait. 

Just that split second before the fight, waiting for Kudus to come through, to finally grant me His supernatural power, the Amok Strength that’s supposed to run through my veins. 

O Kudus, Maha Esa, berkatilah hamba-Mu dengan kuasa ajaib-Mu.

O God Almighty, grant Your servant Your miraculous strength.

I push stray hair out of my face as I wait, hoping for that stirring of power, for that gifting Ayahanda has described in multiple ways time and time again: that surety and Presence, the surge of raw power and rage, sparks running through his limbs. 

They say Kudus is never changing. He never disappoints. Well, He doesn’t disappoint. Nothing happens. No power, no presence. Just the continued silence of the past five years, ever since I started silat training at the age of ten. 

Tok Yaakub and I circle each other, bare feet stirring up clouds of dust from the packed dirt of the gelanggang. He slashes at me with his keris and I slash back, dancing backwards and forwards to the warm breeze. There’s sweat in my eyes and on my palms, frustration in my soul and in my forms. 

This match ends as it always does with his double-edged dagger at my chest. At least this time, I’m not flat on my back. He grunts in disappointment and withdraws his blade. We take a step backwards, bow to each other with our hands clasped in front of our chests, blades facing down. The fight is over and we bear no ill will to each other. 

“That was terrible, Putera Mikal,” Tok Yaakub says. “What’s wrong with you today?”

Everything. It’s hot, I’m sticky with sweat, my hair is itchy on my face, I still haven’t earned my Amok Strength, there’s a delegation from Bayangan no one is talking about, rumour says we’re about to go to war, Ayahanda has been distant and busy all week… 

“Nothing.” I wipe the sweat off my face with the back of my sleeve. It’s not that I don’t trust him. Besides training me in silat, Tok Yaakub teaches me military tactics and strategies. He’s one of the few adults I trust with my life—but he’s also one of my father’s men and sits on the Majlis as Temenggung, the commander of our military and head of security. Which means I don’t trust him with my secrets. 

“Come, let us put away the keris and go hand to hand. Get some of that restless energy out of you.” He wipes down his keris and lays it on the outer edge of the marked circle. 

My keris is about the length of my forearm. I take my time to shine each curve of the iron blade before I sheath it, rubbing away my sweat from the carved, gilded hilt. Then I walk to the opposite end of the circle and place it on the stand. I don’t have to. There’s no rule that says I should do so. I retie my knee-long hair into a bun so it will stop flying in my face then adjust my belt for the absence of the keris.

I turn to find Tok Yaakub scrutinising me with a worried look. His hair is neatly tied at the nape and falls down to his waist. I don’t know how he does it. Maybe it’s part of the Amok gift that’s extended from my father the Sultan to him as Temenggung. 

“Are you sure you’re not ill?” He crosses the circle towards me and I duck to avoid the arc of his hand that’s trying to feel my forehead. 

“I said it’s nothing, Tok Yaakub. I’m not sick.”

He sniffs in disbelief. “It’s never nothing with young men like you. Now either you best me or you tell me what’s bothering you.”

This time I don’t wait. I don’t bother with protocol that says we have to face each other and bow, that courtesy of making sure he’s ready. No one’s going to wait for me to be ready in war. He’s always ready though, he’s always prepared, so I can’t break through his defences, no matter how high or how low I strike, arms, legs or elbows. 

We break apart and circle each other again. 

“Is Terang at war?” I blurt.

A look of caution enters his face, his eyes wary, searching me. “Where did—what do you mean?”

“Where did I hear that? People talk you know, and sometimes I listen.”

He grimaces and straightens his stance, dropping his hands. “Do you see any armies? Any fighting?”

I haven’t, but Yosua heard it from his father, and Garett’s rumours are always right. It may not be here yet, but it’s coming. I straighten as well, folding my arms. “Why else are the Bayangans here?” I don’t know why I’m saying this—this is Majlis business I’m not supposed to know about—but once I start, there’s no stopping the flow.

“They’re not here for—”

“Ayahanda doesn’t tell me anything. Am I not old enough to be involved in the affairs of the sultanate?”

“Tuanku, your father—”

“I’m next in line to the throne, Tok Yaakub, but I don’t know anything that’s happening in Terang—or even here in Maha! My personal attendant, my servant, knows more than I do!” Yosua has always known more than me through the servant’s gossip, but I don’t say this. I can’t tell Tok Yaakub that almost every bit of news I hear comes from my servant because no one else in the palace tells me anything. “I don’t know what’s going on and the Majlis thinks I’m stupid and naive. They look at me and say I need to be responsible, that I need to act for the best of the sultanate. Then they look down on me because they think I don’t…but the truth is I can’t because I don’t know anything.” 

My voice cracks and I wince. My eyes are prickling and my face is hot. 

I’m fifteen, not five. 

I steel myself and glare at the face of my teacher, who looks bemused. It rankles. I am Mikal ayell Simson, only son of Sultan Simson of Maha, the First City of Terang. I am a prince not some backwater fool or village champion trying to act smart.


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What is faith, except hope in desperation?

All Putera Mikal wants is to gain the Amok Strength, the supernatural power granted by Kudus to the Mahan royal family. No matter how religiously Mikal keeps his vows, Kudus still denies him the Strength—whilst his father, Sultan Simson, flaunts the Strength despite his blatant defiance of the Temple and the priests’ visions of coming doom.

Then the prophecies come true.

Taken captive, Mikal must find a way to liberate his people and restore his throne in Maha—and the key to this is the Amok Strength. But what does it take to gain Kudus’ favour?





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Before I end this post, I wanted to crosslink a review of The Tale of the Hostage Prince by Mermaird!


If you have been following my reviews, you may know that Amok (read my review here) is one of my favourite reads of 2021, and it is still among the top of my favourite fantasy reads. As much as I loved the main character, Mikal, his best friend, Yosua had been my favourite character from the start...

The Tale of the Hostage Prince is a fast-paced story that left me breathless; there was no time to rest as things keep getting worse for Yosua after each page. The violence and torture are rather gruesome, perfect for my taste, even if it leaves a bitter aftertaste when I consider that Yosua does not deserve any of it. His faith is questioned and his efforts seem futile, but someone with a big heart like him never gives up. I love how hard he tries his best, and whenever he feels like giving up, somewhere deep inside him knows that it is not the right thing to do. This is why he will always be my favourite  

Read the whole review here!


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The Tale of the Hostage Prince (Book 1.5)

Yosua wears an uneasy crown. Although he is now Raja of Bayangan, he still longs for the land of his birth where everything was much simpler…and less deadly.

But peace doesn’t come easily, not for a twenty-year-old servant playacting at being king.

With his parents brutally murdered and his uncle bent on revenge, Yosua must decide where his loyalties truly lie. With his only remaining relative and the kingdom he has claimed? Or with his best friend Mikal and the sultanate that raised him as a hostage?


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