South Asian Spotlight — Author Interview with Rati Mehrotra

One of the books that absolutely blew me away this year was Rati Mehrotra’s Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove! This book was such a pleasant surprise with its fast paced plot and an intriguing cast of characters set in medieval India. Releasing next week, this is a book you aren’t going to regret reading, so add it to your shelves immediately!

Today, joining me on the blog, is the author Rati Mehrotra. Take a seat back as we chat about etymologies, tropes and a small peak on upcoming projects!

This October, the blog is featuring many voices from the South Asian community, so if you seem to have missed out on the previous posts, check out South Asian Spotlight!

synopsis

To learn what she can become, she must first discover who she is.

Katyani’s role in the kingdom of Chandela has always been clear: becoming an advisor and protector of the crown prince, Ayan, when he ascends to the throne. Bound to the Queen of Chandela through a forbidden soul bond that saved her when she was a child, Katyani has grown up in the royal family and become the best guardswoman the Garuda has ever seen. But when a series of assassination attempts threatens the royals, Katyani is shipped off to the gurukul of the famous Acharya Mahavir as an escort to Ayan and his cousin, Bhairav, to protect them as they hone the skills needed to be the next leaders of the kingdom. Nothing could annoy Katyani more than being stuck in a monastic school in the middle of a forest, except her run-ins with Daksh, the Acharya’s son, who can’t stop going on about the rules and whose gaze makes her feel like he can see into her soul.

But when Katyani and the princes are hurriedly summoned back to Chandela before their training is complete, tragedy strikes and Katyani is torn from the only life she has ever known. Alone and betrayed in a land infested by monsters, Katyani must find answers from her past to save all she loves and forge her own destiny. Bonds can be broken, but debts must be repaid.

interview

Q: Hi Rati, I’m so excited to be interviewing you on my blog today regarding your upcoming novel, Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove! Can you introduce yourself and your book, to others?

Thank you for having me, Queenie! I am excited to talk about my book!

I am an Indo-Canadian science fiction and fantasy writer who lives in Toronto, although I was born and brought up in India. I’ve been writing for many years now, both short fiction and novels, but Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is my first YA fantasy book. It’s set in an alternate medieval India, inspired by actual thirteenth century maps, and follows the adventures of a young guardswoman in a monster-infested land. It’s a murder mystery, political intrigue, betrayal, found family, humor and romance/banter all rolled into one. I put all my love of Indian mythology, history, culture, and architecture into it. It was wonderfully entertaining for me to write, and I hope it will be entertaining to readers as well.

Q: Jumping right into the novel, one thing that caught my eye—other than the cover, of course—was the book’s title! Can you tell us more about why you chose this name?

I love a long title! The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making come to mind. For this book, I knew I wanted something unique that had not been done before and would reflect the heart of the story. Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove sounds almost poetic to me and it captures the essence of what happens with the main character, her relationships, her trials, and her bonds. It implies a progression from darkness to light; a journey, both internal and external, that the main character must make.

Q: The land of Bharat is so rich and beautiful. And the monsters were ghastly yet interesting! What was your research process like, for these characters, and which one of them is your favorite?

As most of my South Asian readers will recognize, all the monsters in my story are from Indian folklore and are commonly known in the subcontinent, with the exception of yatu. Yatu are mentioned in ancient Vedic texts. I read stories, consulted translations of the texts, and researched both popular depictions as well as older ones to decide on my monsters’ characteristics and physiognomy. I also talked with my grandmother, who is a font of knowledge on matters both historical and mythological. It was one of the most enjoyable bits of research I’ve done! I learned so many fascinating details. For instance, vetalas might be evil spirits who possess corpses, but in certain parts of India, they are also regarded as guardian spirits who protect the village.

My favorite monster is the daayan. I admit to having borrowed some aspects of the folkloric chudail for her identity. But I love how powerful she is, how uncompromising in her outlook, and how utterly fearless.

Q4: Katyani is such a unique name, and so are Daksh, Ayan, Bhairav, and many more! It was so refreshing to read about characters whose names aren’t already widely used in literature. Could you perhaps elaborate on the etymology behind the characters’ names?

Katyani, my main character’s name, is a short form of Katyayani, one of the aspects of the Hindu Mother Goddess Durga. Ambika is also yet another name of Durga. Daksh in Hindu mythology is the world king, a son of Brahma. Bhairav is a fearsome form of Shiva. Ayan is both a popular Hindu and a Muslim name. In Sanskrit, it means gift from god. Mahavir, which means brave, was the 24th Tirthankara, a supreme spiritual teacher from the Jain tradition. I wanted to use unique names from Indian culture and mythology that also reflected the characters themselves.

The name “Shamsher” has Persian origins but is popular in India and I took the liberty of using it as Persian influence in India dates back to ancient times.

Q5: Daksh is definitely a character worth swooning over! And his relationship with Katyani is equally precious. Without giving much away, what is a scene involving banter between the both that you enjoyed writing?

I loved writing all the scenes between Katyani and Daksh! There were points I was giggling to myself while writing. There is a particular scene near the beginning of the book that involves bathing in a pond, a certain confusion on timings for men and women, and Daksh hastily putting on his outer robe, being haughty and embarrassed while Katyani laughs at him. I love both of them in that scene, how she teases him, how he responds to her and looks away, even while keeping her in his peripheral vision.

Q6: Slow burn, court intrigue, betrayal trope, and found family are a few of the many tropes embedded in your book! These were all wonderfully presented and I was thoroughly enjoying myself throughout the novel. What are some of your favorite tropes?

All of the ones you’ve mentioned! And my favorites: food-as-love and love-through-service.

Food is very important to me, both in fiction and in real life. Food – the preparation, the cooking, the serving, the sharing – reveals culture, geography, character, and emotion. Sometimes, we cannot say the words I love you. But we can show it through our actions. That showing is more important in certain contexts. We all need food to survive, and by preparing and sharing food with someone, what we are saying is: I care for you. Your well being is important to me. Daksh would find it very hard to speak of his love, but he can show his love. And he does that through his recipes. Which taste terrible, but that’s beside the point!

Q: Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove was an instant favorite for me! It felt so original and was everything a brown girl could wish for, in a fantasy novel—minus the deaths and suffering, haha. If you can, can you tell us a little about your upcoming projects, because I’m totally in for anything you’re gonna write!

Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. My next book is currently slated for publication in Fall 2023. I can’t announce the title yet! Without giving too much away, I can say that it is also a medieval Indian fantasy, but this time set in the sixteenth century Gujarat Sultanate. It is the most ‘historical’ novel I’ve written so far, and the research was extremely difficult for me, not least because it is during this time that the Portuguese established themselves on the western coast of India. It was the beginning of European colonization of the subcontinent, and some of the details were hard for me to stomach. My book is about a girl who finds herself caught up in the politics of the Sultanate against the backdrop of the Portuguese invasion. There is magic, betrayal, adventure, and a touch of romance. I hope it will appeal to all my readers!

about the author

Born and raised in India, Rati Mehrotra now lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of the science fantasy novels Markswoman (2018) and Mahimata (2019) published by Harper Voyager. Her YA fantasy debut novel Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove will be published in October 2022 by Wednesday Books.

Rati also writes short stories. Her short fiction has been shortlisted for The Sunburst Award, nominated for The Aurora Award, and has appeared in multiple venues including The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, Podcastle, Cast of Wonders, AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and IGMS.

Rati grew up in various parts of India, but her most memorable years were spent in her grandmother’s house near the zoo, where escaped monkeys infested the rooftops, cows dominated the streets, and colorful kites dotted the sky. Indian mythology, history, food, and folklore permeate her writing. She loves to cook; when not writing, she is often to be found in the kitchen, experimenting with new recipes. Food-as-love is one of her favorite tropes.

THANK YOU FOR READING!

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