Hello everyone! Today I am so excited to do a very exciting cover reveal of a debut releasing later this year. This debut fantasy sounds so good and intriguing and I think this is not a book you would want to miss out on!
Crowning Soul is described as The City of Brass meets InuYasha with complex villains, found family, slowburn romance, forbidden jinn magic, Muslim majority cast, food, adventure and a story inspired by various culture. Read the synopsis below:
Synopsis: Be swept away in this unique fantasy debut from Sahira Javaid. A spellbinding adventure of belonging, finding hope and where the price of a soul is another soul’s fate. Perfect for fans of InuYasha, Children of Blood and Bone and The Candle and The Flame.
Nezha Zaman considers her gift to control fire a dangerous secret. A secret that unravels when she encounters a vengeful shadow jinni in a maze garden that has been stalking her family, and knows about her power. Weeks after seeing the demonic being, Nezha is torn from her world through her backyard pond and transported to another dimension which sought out the light inside her heart.
Nezha learns from two unicorns that the dimension is her family’s roots, and the light is a fragment of an angel’s shattered soul. The three must work together to find the soul’s shards in a land teeming with shape-shifting jinn. If Nezha fails to stop the corrupted Iron Prince, the malevolent jinn at his side will shatter her soul next.
Release Date: August 9th, 2020
Without further ado, here’s the beautiful cover:
Read further for a sneak peek of the first chapter
CHAPTER 1 — UNINVITED GUEST
Nezha’s gaze pierced through the crowd, as if the people and their conversations were a thousand wings caught in a gale.
“Nuzha, ki Dayra?” Her aunt Lamis always called her that. A promenade, as if Nezha were destined to leave Azzam Morocco toward a destination far greater. A place filled with flowers and sweets would be ideal to Nezha Zaman.
“I’m okay.” Nezha tilted her head down with a reassuring smile. But her smile was a weapon, a tool, a bandage, spreading across her face with versatility. She could hardly breathe, as if her green apron was tied around her chest and not her waist. Being around Lamis though, with her warm smile and fun nature, made it more tolerable. “The crowd’s getting bigger…”
“Those prices would bring anyone in, even the world of the ghayb,” Lamis said as she winked and passed Nezha by with a pot of yellow flowers in her hands. A floral blend of roses and smoke filled Nezha’s head as Lamis walked past her to the front table. The scent had become a habit— a sense of comfort.
Unseen or not, Nezha wanted to make it through the day without having to force herself to breathe. She’d make it, she would. She always did. After one chocolate she’d make it for sure. Nezha scooped her hand into a glass bowl. She unwrapped the red packaging of one of her favorite treats as a child, a merendina. A sponge cake sandwiched with chocolate ganache and coated in dark chocolate. Soft, chocolatey and so good!
It was back to work again.
Nezha was pumped up. Her heart racing, a smile over her lips as she interacted with the people. Brothers and husbands made up most of the crowd. Countless flowers passed her fingertips, that she was surprised they still had more left in the shop.
Lamis handed a bouquet of red, pink and yellow roses to one customer and with a bounce in her step she walked over to a watering can. It gleamed as if it were made of blue crystal, with white calligraphy painted with precise curls and swirls. “Could you get one of the lilies from outside?” Lamis’s constant animation reminded Nezha of the birds that roosted over the ancient ruins in the East. Her slim build was reminiscent of the white-winged wasp eaters who had black bands over their eyes and the red tinge to their orange bodies.
“Yeah. Just don’t overwater them Lamis. I wouldn’t want to return to the leaves with tip burn.” Nezha turned to Lamis with a lopsided grin and a pointed finger, and then turned to walk toward the door, passing three other people. She could hear Lamis chuckle behind her.
Nezha’s family owned the flower shop, Rhoda’s Flowers. The anniversary and forty percent off on any flower attracted crowds. Especially since her family was well known to the neighborhood. Her dad had gone early morning to bring their inventory to a botanical garden where they would hold the party. At their shop, all sorts of fragrances from saccharine to chocolate to spiced, uplifted Nezha. It was therapy for her soul. Having her name also mean a promenade just fit so well. She believed in things happening for a reason. Walking a path of flowers through her life would make her happy. She could imagine living her life like that.
She stepped out to the display in front of the shop, with rows of rich-toned pots of browns and oranges, topped with flowers. Atop one, a bumblebee sat upon it, its legs decorated with fuzzy yellow balls of pollen. She watched as it hovered around another flower and then took to the sky. There, something caught her eye.
The way the darkness rolled, as if alive and breathing, unnerved her. Nezha’s eyes fixed to the morning sky, where smoke whispered through the trees. Billowing in the wind like a satin dress, the smoke took the form of a dark figure among the branches.
Nezha’s eyes widened. Could the branches, or the sun’s glare be obscuring her sight? Cold pricked along the back of her neck. She turned sharply, grabbed the pot, and entered the shop again as quick as she could.
“Just in time, Nuzha!” Lamis stretched her hand out, reaching for the pot.
Nezha handed it to her, and swiftly turned to go behind their front desk.
“Do you have another fireweed plant?” A customer walked up to Nezha.
Nezha parted her lips, about to speak, but that image of the shadow birthed thoughts of it still watching her, and stalking her, unseen. She glanced at one of the flyers, with the same flower the customer wanted and its location. “Excuse me.” Nezha handed it to them and tapped Lamis on the shoulder, not meeting her eyes. She heard a quick “shukran” from the customer as she moved to the back of the shop.
Lamis took over. “How may I help you?”
Nezha breathed in and out slowly. She’d just take a minute. She couldn’t leave her aunt out there alone, but Nezha just needed to breathe. Whatever that thing was…she couldn’t let it stop her from working. It must have been her eyes tricking her. She’d been working so hard today, so it had to be that.
Nezha turned to one of the flowers, the rose of Venezuela, and cupped her hand around its bright crimson inflorescences. Sunlight poured over the tubular flowers. It had been watered earlier and still held drops that made it appear to be plump fruit. Nezha held her face close and breathed in. Although they didn’t have a scent, she loved being around them whenever fear or anxiety gripped her heart. Somehow it made her calmer. Warmth flooded her chest and the very tips of her fingers. She could get back to work. Nezha lifted her head.
“Nuzha…What happened?” Lamis appeared behind her.
“I just needed to breathe, Lamis. Come on, let’s get back to work.” Nezha gave Lamis’s arm a gentle squeeze and her aunt returned it.
“That’s my Nuzha, determined and capable.” Lamis’s eyes held concern even though she smiled.
“It’s my birthday tomorrow, which makes me so much more.” Nezha chuckled.
“Seventeen years old…my Nuzha is truly a young woman now.” Lamis pumped a fist into the air. “Let’s work!”
Nezha readjusted her apron. “Yeah, we got this!”
“Phew.” The last customer from the rush left, the door closing behind them with a click. Nezha placed her hands on her hips and blew out a sigh.
“Nezha, earlier you looked as if you were overwhelmed.”
“Oh no, you said my actual name.” Nezha grinned.
“Come on Nuzha, I know you.” Lamis touched the top of Nezha’s head. “You’ve been keeping your distance from people.”
“I do have my two best friends and we spend time together.” Nezha shrugged.
“Emotionally, not physically.” Lamis took her apron off and hung it up. “How about this, if you promise to not hold back on your emotions, I’ll make you an extra treat.”
“Lamis, that’s not fair, you know my weakness!” Nezha looked out the window. There were three people with big smiles on their faces. She could hear their laughter through the glass windows. Her gaze dropped, as did her heart. “Let’s pack up the flowers.” She turned to one of the boxes, placing a pot and closed the lid.
The streets bustled with people. On Saturday, the weekend became alive with movement. Downtown was an artist’s delight where colors and patterns embroidered buildings in geometric designs. Lined by palm trees, the road met with the heart of her city where the market square reigned. They tailed a horse-driven carriage. The road bordered the people thronging the market.
The market was its own rightful story, the atmosphere rife with vendors crying their wares and folk-singers pulling you in like sirens. Magicians, artists and snake charmers making you second guess reality.
Tanneries lay out their dried leather to sun soak on the pavement. The color and vitality were a living pulse of their own.
Nezha lowered the car’s window. The warm and spiced scent of the air wafted into the car. She closed her eyes for a moment as a smile curled over her face. “Mm… food.” Colorful ceramic bowls, artisanally crafted lamps and handcrafted trinkets graced Nezha’s eyes. Embroidered kaftans and hooded Djellabas were worn by most who strolled through the market. Both threaded in the richness of her culture. The story of food carried more than flavor. Sweets were her weakness, like the creamy, flaky goodness of milk Bastilla that melted in her mouth, and the warm softness of freshly baked pastries. She spotted three women wearing blue, white, and green veils over their heads and down to their navels, drying their henna-adorned hands in the sun. Nezha marveled at the intricacy of the red lines.
Their car turned into the parking lot of Jardine Rababi, the famous garden in Azzam Morocco.
Lamis and Nezha arrived at the garden. Lamis opened her arms and looked Nezha’s mom up and down with her light brown eyes.
“As Salaamu Alaikum. How was the shop?” Nezha’s mom, Najwa, walked from their car toward Lamis and embraced her. Najwa wore a long red shawl over her dark brown hair. Part of the cloth tumbled forward as she embraced Lamis. Her deep brown eyes reflected a hint of concern as her gaze lingered on Nezha.
“Wa Alaikum as Salaam. It was good, dear,” Aunt Lamis smiled.
Nezha’s father, Wasi, stood beside Lamis. “Sister, you look well.” He patted the top of her head, ruffling the turquoise shawl she wore and inadvertently messing up her short chestnut hair underneath. He smiled at her. Even in forty years, the creases along his mouth revealed just how much he’d smiled. He never laughed too loudly. His walk was gentle like the sweeping sands to the South, as was his voice.
Lamis grinned as she tucked her hair back in. “Have you been eating better, little brother?” She poked his side. “Looks like not enough.”
Wasi gave her a hearty smile as Lamis chuckled.
“Come on, Nuzha, help me unload the car.” Lamis walked to the back of the vehicle.
Nezha stood beside her as Lamis opened the trunk. On the right, boxes of yellow star-fruits, strawberries, blueberries and melons were arranged to look like baskets of flowers.
On the left were two medium boxes of flowers. Nezha lifted the top box which held one of her favorites, the Jade Vine flower. Her fingers slipped over its clawed turquoise and waxy flowers held by purple stems. It looked like a pendant, the cluster flowing down. Nezha had been helping these flowers grow. These were high maintenance, needing full sun and copious amounts of water, and fertile soil. Nezha brought the flower with them to Jardin Rababi. She wanted the endangered flower to grow and thrive.
Nezha’s parents and aunt walked toward the building and entered the garden. She followed behind, clutching the box to her chest.
Above her, a cusped arch spilled with golden yellow. Calligraphy etched in red over the columns, showcasing the Moorish charm. Further down the brightly orange-tiled lane followed another arch, whose blue and green melted with one another. To her right, a clear stream burbled by and the air carried a sugary fragrance. Cushioned with trees and flowing with ponds, this harmonious place was a retreat from the bustling city.
Nezha reached the open door. Something flickered from the corner of her eye. She turned her head. The light elongated a figure, thin and inhuman. Nezha’s pulse drummed in her neck. The form rolled over the leaves of the trees and disappeared, but Nezha continued to stare. She almost dropped the box. Her fingers shook over the woven wood. Not again. Just a shadow. It had to be. Her shoulder slammed the door against the wall as she entered. She fiddled with her headscarf.
She walked over the glossy black flooring crisscrossed with taupe diamonds.
Nezha placed the box on one of the long white tables and blew out a sigh. By the most high! She let the view of the grand room sink in. The flowers and colorful decoration made the room pop with life. Beside her a medium-sized pond gurgled with a stone waterfall. Koi fish swam within. The skylight above their heads welcomed the sun’s marvelous light.
“What do you think, Nezha?” Najwa asked her.
“Amazing.” Nezha’s voice cracked. She turned to her father just as he brought in more boxes. Another man assisted him as they lay the boxes on the tables to the left of the room. “Aunt Lamis, I’m so excited!”
“For the milk Bastilla?” Lamis said.
“Oh yes. And, I can’t believe it’s been forty years since the shop’s been in business.”
Milk Bastilla was always sweeter when she got to eat it with Aunt Lamis. Only with her.
“Wow, what a place to eat at!” Nezha’s gaze glided over the walls and decoration. On the ceiling was a dome light with smaller lights circling it, winking like scattered stars. Lamis placed a box on the dining table and opened it. Nezha walked over to the different dishes. All those scents! She couldn’t wait to eat. The marriage of sweet and warm smells carried a comfort that was familiar to Nezha. “Your homemade milk B-Bastilla?”
There was nearly nothing in the world that made Nezha happy like her aunt’s homemade treats, except maybe a trip to her favorite garden, La Juniper Jardine. Not much could match the glow of the sunset when it lit the mountain range or how the flowers bloomed there.
“Yes, always, Nuzha. Is that all you see?” Lamis hugged Nezha with one arm.
The other unsealed box consisted of roasted lamb shoulders and vegetables, couscous with olives, chicken with preserved lemons and a chickpea and carrot tagine. There was even more food. Thanks to her mom’s Pakistani heritage, there were samosas – a triangular pastry filled with spices, peas and potatoes— and biryani with chicken and masala and beef curry, or saalan.
Pakistani sweets— mithai, were as heavenly as her beloved milk Bastilla. Bright pink chum chum which were cottage cheese balls, dripping with sugar syrup, gulab jamun sat next to them, those golden-brown balls of rose and fluffy goodness. They couldn’t celebrate without ladoos! With bites of nuts. She couldn’t forget those soft squares of barfi or the bright orange swirly wreaths of jalebis, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
By the late morning, guests had filled the building.
Nezha could finally eat. Her gaze shifted to the windows, wondering if that shadow was still out there. As if the thought of that strange shadow could erase her hunger. No way! She grabbed one of each treat and placed them on her plate, balancing them over a container filled with savory dishes. Sparkling beverages of hibiscus and mint chai filled decorative stained glasses. Nezha could probably eat half of everything.
Nezha picked up the milk Bastilla. Her taste buds welcomed the satisfying crunchy layer of phyllo and savored the light and creamy orange blossom filling. “Let’s sit together!” She grabbed a napkin and lightly elbowed Lamis, walking with her to the dining area.
Lamis smiled. “Of course, Nuzha darling.”
Nezha consumed the last of her treats. She was thankful no creme or sticky syrup had stained her kaftan. She wanted to look beautiful for the event. The fluid belted tunic ran down to her ankles. Golden flowers spotted the cream-yellow fabric and gilded it with lace. Nezha had a deep orange shawl wrapped around her head which fell over her chest and covered her hair.
Nezha stood up to welcome more of the guests. To the right of the room was a small stage. One man was positioning a podium in the front, and the other was behind the scene, inspecting the wiring. As Nezha walked past them, a shadow hovered over her form. She jerked her head up, only to see a brown bird land on the glass. It jumped for mere seconds until it fluttered off, casting a shadow over her. Another shadow followed slower and fluid, as if it hovered over the glass. There was no bird connected to it this time. Nezha’s heart leapt into her throat. “Could it be a jinni?”
Jinn were beings which were known to her people. They existed. Humans prohibited interacting with the jinn. Why was she seeing them now? Seeing them was a sign of having darkness inside you. The building wasn’t abandoned. There was no bleeding ache of sorrow or the stench of corruption.
“Nezha, we’re heading to the stage soon. Bring your flower,” Najwa said, as she approached her.
“Yeah mom, I’ll be there in a minute.” Nezha’s gaze returned to the glass, but there was nothing there now.
“See you soon.” Nezha’s mom pursed her lips and headed to the stage, accompanied by her husband.
Nezha and her parents welcomed everyone on the stage. She held the jade vine flower in her hands, a smile on her face. People smiled and cheered as her father Wasi said, “Shukran for attending our anniversary for our shop, Rhoda’s Flowers! We are grateful to serve you with our edible arrangements and beautiful flowers. Welcome this new plant, the jade vine flower to the garden! I hope we enjoy more years to come!”
It was almost time for the picnic. Guests congratulated her parents. Nezha became drawn to a big sunny window near the ceiling. Her eyes searched for the shadow but only took in the birds collecting around a fountain. Of course, it was just birds.
Nezha smiled as three women walked over to congratulate her. That’s when she saw it. A flower blooming around a maze garden. With magenta petals and a yellow center so bright, she just had to check it out. “Dad, I want to explore a bit. I’ll be right back.”
“Oh. Have fun!” Wasi said to her with a smile.
Najwa gave her a small wave.
Nezha walked through the crowd to reach the back door to the gardens. A colonnade of five marble and steel trellises invited her into the main garden. There were flower beds of roses, lilies and some of which she recognized from her family’s shop. She walked along the rows, the scents clinging to her every movement.
She entered the maze. No one else was around. A myriad of flowers braided the tall bushes which made up the maze. Nezha could peek over them as long as she balanced on her tiptoes to see the entrance. A dark haze slid by the corner of her eye, and cold rushed all over her.
Nezha’s breath hitched. She reached out to brush a petal with her thumb.
When she was a child, she carried boxes of blooming flowers to their shop, and sunk her fingers into the coolness of the soil. Every flower taught her how to withstand and make her path. Through the chill of fear, or the burning of anger, damp days filled with tears or dry days of a barren mind, they taught her never to give up. That even in the most inhospitable land, life found a way to fight its way in.
Nezha had been studying plant sciences to become a botanist, to keep her family’s legacy and her passion alive. Her hard work would pay off. She knew it.
A creeping chill snaked its way around her stomach and up her chest like a vine, jolting her out of her thoughts.
Someone was watching her.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Javaid is a YA fantasy writer and poetess from Ottawa who shares her poems on Twitter and her website. Fond of animals, nature and learning, she passes time reading about the world around her, nature’s healing ways, chatting with friends and making others smile and laugh every time she gets. Her poetry book Crack of Dawn is available on Amazon and other online retailers.
How beautiful and intriguing is that cover?
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