Wednesday 9 March 2022

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Guest Post: Aneesa Marufu on the South Asian and Islamic Folklore that Inspired The Balloon Thief

The Balloon Thief by Aneesa Marufu laying on flattened navy blue wrapping paper patterned with yellow and blue eyes and stylised urn with crescent moons repeated, on a black wooden table. The book is diagonal, top left to bottom right.

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Aneesa Marufu on the South Asian and Islamic Folklore that Inspired The Balloon Thief

I'm super excited to have a guest post to share with you today. YA author Aneesa Marufu is stopping by the blog to talk about how South Asian and Islamic folklore and myths inspired elements of her debut YA high fantasy novel, The Balloon Thief*.

Aneesa MarufuI’ve always been drawn to fairy tales, growing up I devoured them for their promise of a happily ever after. I consider folktales and fairy tales to contain elements of truth woven into them, and knowing that these are stories that have been passed down through generations, each generation adding their own spin on the story, has always excited me as a reader left to question the truth behind the tale.

When we think of fairy tales, instantly it’s the classics like Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, or Little Red Riding Hood that spring to mind, but there are many folk and fairy tales across other cultures that aren’t as widely known. When writing The Balloon Thief, I was inspired by South Asian and Islamic myths and folklore, particularly tales like One Thousand and One Nights, and Aladdin and the Jinni, as well as stories I grew up with as a child about spirits known as jinn. I’ve always been fascinated by the darker fairy tales, stories such as the tale of Scheherazade, who upon marrying a king who was intent on beheading her the next morning before taking a new bride and repeating this each day, was forced to tell him a story that stretched on for a thousand days in order to spare her life, whereas upon the end of the story the king falls in love with Scheherazade and decides to let her live as his queen.

The Balloon Thief by Aneesa MarufuI think the best fairy tales are the ones that have that balance between magic and realism, such as the promise of impossible love in the story about the poor street boy, Aladdin, marrying the beautiful Princess Jasmine. An important element of any fairy tale is the moral dilemma and the triumph of good over evil, which is a key theme in The Balloon Thief, that ultimately the characters must acknowledge and pursue what is right above all else.

I find folk tales also a great way of learning about the history and customs of another culture, such as the very different portrayal of vampires in Vikram and the Vampire than what is usually depicted in mainstream interpretations. Islamic myths and legends have been another inspiration for my writing, particularly surrounding jinn, which are seen as spirits that can be either good or evil. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories and superstitions surrounding these creatures―I remember being told as a child to never walk beneath a tree at night because that is where jinn are rumoured to sleep. Hearing about the tales of different jinn kings and queens and their interactions with humans, from granting wishes, to marrying mortals and playing tricks of deceit, is what first made me fall in love with the art of storytelling, which is how The Balloon Thief came about.

Thank you, Aneesa, for such a fantastic guest post! Read on for more about the book.

The Balloon Thief by Aneesa MarufuThe Balloon Thief by Aneesa Marufu (Published 3rd March 2022 from Chicken House Books)

The year's must-read YA fantasy - ancient djinn, an epic adventure, and one girl's courage to seek her own destiny...

Burn the flame. Seek the night.

For Khadija, the only escape from her father's arranged betrothal is the sky.

When she spots a rogue hot air balloon fighting against its ropes, she leaps at the chance for adventure. Khadija soon finds an unlikely ally in a poor glassmaker's apprentice, Jacob.

But Jacob is a hāri, and Khadija a Ghadaean. The hāri are oppressed and restless - their infamous terrorist group, the Hāreef, have a new fearsome leader. And the ruling Ghadaeans are brutal in their repression.

Soon, a deadly revolution threatens their friendship and their world. The Hāreef use forbidden magic, summoning jinn - wicked spirits made of fire - to enact their revenge, forcing Jacob and Khadija to choose what kind of a world they want to save...

The debut novel from enthralling new talent, twenty-four-year-old Aneesa Marufu, which draws on the author's South Asian heritage. Explores racism, misogyny and discrimination in a highly original fantasy universe.
From StoryGraph.

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Doesn't The Balloon Thief sound incredible?! And look at that gorgeous cover! I am so, so looking forward to reading this South Asian inspired high fantasy! I'm saving it for next month to read it as part of this year's #RamadanReadathon. Be sure to check out Aneesa's website, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and The Balloon Thief^, which was published on 3rd March from Chicken House Books.
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