By Dibyajyoti Sarmah
Name: Boy of Fire and Earth
Author: Sami Shah
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Could you ever imagine a full-blown fantasy novel set in the murky underbelly of modern-day Karachi? A fantasy novel rooted in Islamic concept of heaven and hell? A fantasy novel where the archetype of evil itself, Iblis (The Devil of The Bible) makes an appearance as a lovable rogue? Perhaps not, especially in the context of today’s polarising attitude to the religion itself. This is one of the reasons that makes Sami Shah’s incredible Boy of Fire and Earth such a joy to read. It takes you back to the days of Arabian Nights and Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, via of course, the western import of video games, comic books and the all-encompassing influence of Neil Gaiman.
For a while, modern South Asian writing is flirting with creating its own brand of fantasy fiction mixing local fantasy elements with established western tropes, as Ashok Banker did recently in Awaken. However, this concoction never felt as original as it does in this book. This is perhaps because Shah prepares you by setting up the rules before he unveils his big adventure.
So we meet our intrepid hero Wahid, a sickly but smart middle school teenager with just two close friends who share his love for science fiction and video games. He falls in love with a classmate and his friends begin experimenting with drinks, as occasional gun fires and bomb blasts continue to rock parts of Karachi. It’s the real deal and life is good, until Wahid meets with a car accident, sees his friend die and witnesses his would-be girlfriend’s soul being sucked away from her body by a shadowy figure.