by Rana Asfour
‘Scream of the Tasburai’ by Rehan Khan is the second instalment of the Tasburai Chronicles trilogy. Book one ‘Last of the Tasburai’ was released in 2015.
‘Scream of the Tasburai’ opens with a flashback to a battle scene in which a much younger Suri-Yi, the last of the Tasburai, is in battle with the Magrog who have crossed the Black Sea to seize hold of Avantolia. Followers of the trilogy will remember that this is the battle that eventually cements the Tasburai Order’s rule who then go on to establish the Republic of Avantolia. What readers find out now though is how exactly the victory was secured.
Suri-Yi we learn is the guardian of a secret weapon known as ‘The Scream’. It is a powerful sound wave that rises up through the belly of its executioner to ‘pulverize flesh, ground rocks to dust, scald grass … like a tidal wave, engulfing everything’ and leaving nothing in its wake. Ordered by the late Naram-Sin to unleash the power she carries inside her, she realizes when it’s over that she is forever changed. Burdened with immense guilt, she vows that she will do everything in her power so as never to have to unleash it again.
And so, with no unnecessary perambulation, the book’s first chapter jumps straight into where it left off in book one. Apprentice of the Tasburai Order Adan is still reeling from the discovery of an evil all-powerful dominating presence inside him who he blames for the killing of his childhood companion; Desperate to be rid of it, despite the fact that it would mean a diminishing of his powers, he has arrived to seek the advice of a Shufi who instructs him to travel to the dangerous land of the Magrog, the vicious bloodthirsty people who have again crossed the Black Sea to attack the lands of Avantolia. There he is to find the only person who can help him: the Magus. Believing that what he carries inside him is a gidm by the name of Vega, he sets out on his quest oblivious of the horrifying revelation that he will soon uncover.
Readers of book one know that the demon masters of the Magrog, their sister tribe the Yagrog and their terrifying partners the Xettin have crossed the Black Sea into Avantolia. Suri-Yi is convinced that victory against such a force can only be secured through a United Front made up of The Republic, Krakonite, Kronnoburg, and neighboring Pathan (the map at the forefront of the book is a big help). What she also knows is that such a move entails teaming up with some of Avantolia’s worst enemies. Additionally and while initially unknown to many of the characters including Suri-Yi, is the fact that setting its sight towards Avantolia is a new menace in town known as the Mogithrak; the creature ‘who smears filth upon the land; The concealer, the liar, the enchanter, the gilder’ who will not hesitate to burn the entire region to the ground.
And so as Suri-Yi heads with a force of ten thousand from Kronnoburg under the command of Olaf the Generous, to parlay with Avantolia’s chief enemy General Volek at Krakonite, the confrontation is anything but amiable and again alliances are reconfigured as Suri-Yi battles for her survival against an enemy that wants nothing more than to destroy her.
The valiant Captain Rikard from book one is now an army Major. Suri-Yi dispatches him East to personally petition the neighboring Maharaja of Pathan to join forces. We find him and his men, Brynjar the Blade, Bolt and Thord the Tracker in caves on the mountainous route of Kronnoburg about to encounter a troupe of hostile Xettin. At the last minute they are saved by the Alappahoe, a people who wear face paint with bodies smudged with a green powder that gives off a luminous glow when close to firelight. In return for ensuring the company’s safe passage through their terrain they ask that one of Rikard’s men stay behind. The choice falls on Bolt who as a reader I found so little mention of in this book that I’m slightly worried the author might forget all about him when book three comes along.
Ylva, daughter of Olaf the Generous, we now find pining to become a Tasburai warrior despite the wishes of Suri-Yi and her father. Her task is to lead the women, elderly and children to safety towards the fortress outside the Forbidden Quarter; A place where all the treasures of the ancient world are kept under guard by the Farheet against the Magrog and the Yagrog. Once there, it is not long before Ylva’s curiosity gets the better of her and she steals the keys to the forbidden doors to find out what exactly lies behind them. But the Farheet are expecting her and she finds out that it is she alone of the ‘pure heart’ that wields the weapon capable of destroying the advancing Mogithrak.
Queen Elsta of Kronnoburg, now dethroned and sold into slavery, is coming to terms with her demise. Angered and seeking to claim what is rightfully hers she is intent on fleeing captivity in order to seek out Chancellor Sargon who she believes will help her to set matters right. And so with the aid of her new friends, the handmaiden Sally and the sprightly clever Ode, she hatches her plan with confidence. Besides, with the seal of the house of Kronnoburg still in her possession as proof of her identity, what could possibly go wrong? Her journey as a character in this book is particularly interesting for although it starts as one born out of shock and a need for revenge, it also becomes one of empowerment, confidence and self-growth.
‘The Scream of the Tasburai’ is extremely good. It succeeds not only in creating a bridgeway to the third and final book but also for living up to the success of its predecessor. In fact, it trumps it. The writing in book two is stronger, more mature, with tighter chapters and a solid unwavering plot and subplots. There is an elevated level of tension through multiple unpredictable twists and turns as the characters get into place for a final showdown – locations shift, alliances change and truths blur. Loved characters die, old ones make a comeback and new ones are so superbly constructed and fleshed out that they fit in seamlessly without so much as a hiccup in the plotline.
The key behind the success of this middle book, I believe, lies in that the author has managed to strike the exact balance between giving background information for readers new to the trilogy and small reminders for those who have read book number one allowing the entire plot and subplots to unfold and move forward with ease. That said I am hesitant to recommend either book as a standalone novel for I personally believe that as a general rule maximum enjoyment and engagement is garnered when a trilogy is read in its proper sequence particularly so with regards the Tasburai Chronicles.
As with the first book, Khan masterfully manages in ‘Scream of the Tasburai’ to allow each and every one of his characters - the major players and the secondary ones, the familiar and the new - to enjoy a breadth of space that allows them to grow and develop in interestingly individual ways. In this book we learn more about some of our favourite characters’ histories and challenges, particularly Suri-Yi giving her not only more depth but revealing a vulnerable, more humane side that was missing in book one.
And just when followers of the trilogy think they have figured out how a story line might go, the author with deft genius turns everything on its head, changing the game in the process goading his readers on with something new with every turn of the page; Not only does this prove the strength of these characters to carry the weight of the story but they manage to hold the attention of the reader through and through.
And so, by the end of book two it’s anyone’s guess how it will all turn out for our valiant and villainous once book number three of the Tasburai chronicles comes into existence. I personally cannot wait to find out!
Rehan Khan, was born in Wimbledon, in 1971. His parents' home was close to the quintessential All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and a bike ride away from Wimbledon Common. As a child he loved listening to swashbuckling tales of heroism and valour, as well as dabbling in science fiction. His debut novel was 'Last of the Tasburai'.
As his day job, Rehan is the Regional Consulting Director in the MENA region, for a FTSE 100 corporation. He has more than twenty years of experience in consulting, strategy, business planning, innovation, customer experience, marketing, product management, proposition development and business transformation. Rehan has worked across a number of industries including: telecoms, media, technology, real estate, private equity and executive education. He is also a professor at an international business school. Between 2009-10, Rehan was a business columnist for 'The National' newspaper in the UAE. Rehan holds a Master’s degree in applied social and market research, as well as an MBA in strategy. He lives in Dubai, with his wife and two children.