The winner of the Best Children Book of the Year in 2019 The Hidden Children, which was also longlisted for the NEEV award in 2019, Reshma K. Barshikar is back with Book 2 in the series, The Lost Prisoner, another magical YA fantasy set in Mumbai.
In this dark and breathtaking adventure, Barshikar takes us back to the fantastical world of witches, magic, and a beautiful friendship between four friends who are standing at the crossroads of their lives, again.
Here's an excerpt from Reshma K. Barshikar's The Lost Prisoner
The icy plunge hit sooner than the realisation that she was going to die, but death arrived, head-on, dancing with a blackness only the deepest of waters can summon.
Anya rocketed downwards like an arrow and felt a band tighten around her chest as if she was travelling through the Umara, only instead of being flattened, her skin was being peeled or and the pain was so intense she wished for it all to just end. And it did. She swallowed a large amount of water and felt her lungs fill up and make her sink like an anchor.
Then her body pierced through something, there was a sucking sound, followed by a crunch. Anya was choking. She began to throw up water. Once she could breathe, she screamed and screamed until her energy ran out and the pain took over. Everything hurt and she just kept breathing until she stopped shaking. Her body felt wrecked and so did her mind. It felt like every tear she’d ever cried was using the present moment to escape. Soon she was cried out and her body stilled, and all was quiet. She stretched herself out on her back and wiped her eyes and stared into black nothing.
Was this hell? Was she dead? ‘I hate you, Shui,’ she said. Shui, she thought. She was not dead. That was good; not dead was excellent. She rolled to her left and screamed again, pain shooting up her elbow. She staggered to her feet. She was barefoot and felt sand under her toes. Had she been deposited in a cave by those people? She squinted, trying to adjust to the darkness and then froze. Movement. At the corner of her eye, she saw something glowing slither upwards. An animal climbing a cave wall? Swoosh swoosh. She staggered backwards and heard another crunch and ran her feet over something smooth, a stick.
The glowing thing was back and closer, and now looming a foot away in the darkness with a tail made up of the iridescent colours of a rainbow. She clicked her fingers and a flame hovered near her face and she directed it towards the creature but lost it to the darkness. It was the darkness she focused on now. It was a strange sort of darkness, an undulating night. A familiar movement but it couldn’t be because water could never be in front of you. She walked closer to the barrier and stopped right in front of it. She raised her right hand, put it through the shimmer and watched the flame go out because that’s what fire does when it meets water. Dread and disbelief washed over her in waves and she began to shake uncontrollably; it couldn’t be. She fell to her knees as she realised where she was.
‘Hello!’ She screamed. She had heard of this place, read of it in old books that lay at the bottom of shelves she’d been banished to when she’d been bad. A secret to scare little pitta kids from setting fire to people. ‘Beware your grace or you will be sent to water prisons of Sanzu.’ The place where they sent the worst of her kind, the only place that worked against fire. The ocean. Hands shaking, she tried to summon the strength to light a fire again but her mind was too busy drowning, unable to keep a single thought straight. So Anya just continued to scream and at some point passed out exhausted.
Rainbows shimmered through high rectangular stained-glass windows and it was as if she was watching everything through a golden gauze. Dust motes danced along light rays until they met her mother’s cheekbones. Anya ran towards her and wrapped her arms around her velvet cloak. Her mother. Her mother was here, alive and in her arms.
She smelt of rosemary and sage and she giggled as Anya lifted the heavy velvet and snuck underneath, basking in her warmth. It didn’t matter how warm and tropical the room might look with its tall palms and dense creepers, you could not keep the cold of the highland wind out. Anya tickled her stomach again and felt a tap on her shoulder.
‘Not now my little crumpet, can’t you see we are busy? Stay still if you are to stay here.’ Anya poked her head out of the front like a little joey and stared at the other woman who winked at her. Her raven hair hid her face. The raven turned to gold and Ruki’s eyes was staring back at her. ‘Wake up, Anya!’
She woke up panting. Her cheeks were wet and she wiped them even as sand from her palm scratched her face. Sand. She remembered where she was and began to flounder on the ground. ‘Help! Let me out! Where is the council? I deserve a hearing. I don’t deserve death. I know you can hear me because you brought me here,’ Anya panted. ‘Who are….’ She cried. ‘What do you want?’
‘Shhhh child,’ a voice said. ‘You must know no one can hear you here.’ Anya snapped her fingers again but no flame appeared. And again, and again, and again.
‘Such weak power, here let me help.’ A ball of light appeared like a small sun in deep space and Anya finally saw something familiar attached to a long tail. A face that brought back memories. No stranger to this. ‘No wonder you lost the Grimoire but we will reclaim it soon once you get your strength back. Go to sleep now. You need rest if we are to work.’ Cadal Terce. Sleep my little fish.
Who are you? Anya said as her eyes closed.
Your redemption, from the mediocrity you have been drowning in.
Suggested Reading: Unspoken Delves Into The Complexities Of Mother-Daughter Bond