Magic. Monsters. Curses. Friendship. Family. If these are things you enjoy reading about, Shameez Patel Papathanasiou’s The Last Feather is the book for you. It’s only her debut novel but the writer has surely made her mark in the literary world already. The Last Feather forms part of the Selene Trilogy and follows Cassia Khan as she finds herself battling magic and reality to save her sister.
The book has a simple enough premise – at first glance. Cassia Khan’s younger sister Calla is ill and dying yet no one knows why. Even though Cassia is training to be a doctor and her mother is a nurse, they are both helpless against whatever is inflicting Calla. All the while, Cassia has been living with the painful disappearance of her best friend, Luke.
Just when things seem truly hopeless, Cassia finds herself transported to a magical realm. If that wasn’t such a big shock already, Cassia is met with a familiar face: her best friend Luke. When he “disappeared” many years ago, he was brought to this magical realm. But that’s not even the biggest surprise. Be prepared along with Cassia to experience many shocks and surprises throughout the book. Luke tells Cassia that he and his friends have a cure to save Calla but first Cassia will need to come into the powers she didn’t know she has. All the while, time is of the essence. On her arrival in the Selene realm, Cassia was given a feather necklace. She has until the last feather (get it?!) to find the cure and help Luke.
That’s where the recap will have to stop to prevent any spoilers for readers.
However, readers can be prepared for many twists and turns in the book right until the final page. Also probably a slight word of warning that exists for most fantasy books as well as this one: don’t get too attached to any of the characters. (unless you enjoy suffering)
The Daily Vox team chatted with Papathanasiou about the release of her debut novel and what it all means to her. She said she is still very shocked that her book has been published.
“I still don’t fully believe it. I feel like I imagined this,” she said.
But reading and writing is something that Papathanasiou has always loved. “As a child, I would read everything I could get my hands on,” she said. Even though her love of reading and fantasy never went away, it was reignited during the lockdown. It served to remind her how she loved reading.
The book’s first draft came about in around 2015-2016 when she participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). NaNoWriMo is an annual writing challenge where writers are challenged to write a 50 000 word manuscript in November. During the kick-off party, she had to give a one-line pitch of the story where she came up with an alternate realm where magic exists. While the magic lore remained mostly the same, the plot and characters underwent a complete change in the final book.
Besides the interesting nature of the book, Papathanasiou has also had an interesting publishing journey. She had done extensive research around the publishing industry and process. From a Twitter pitch for a romance novel to sending the manuscript to agents and publishers, she had done it all. The book was picked up by Flame Tree Press within ten days of the manuscript being submitted.
The first characters who came into her mind were the title characters of Cassia and Luke. The other characters soon followed and “just fit in the story”, she said. Papathanasiou said she wrote the book for herself first. She wanted to see a woman of colour as the main character, a friendship that was unbreakable and what she calls “soft fantasy”.
The book is filled with magical creatures, pure evil villains, some morally grey characters who tread the line of good and evil and everything in between. The world building and all the magic and creatures feels a little all of the place at times. However that is to be expected as it’s only the first book. There is a marked effort to develop the characters and their stories from Papathanasiou making the book more character-driven.
Papathanasiou elaborated on what “soft fantasy” means for her. This is very character-driven and doesn’t have too much world building. She said while there are many books like this for young adults, there aren’t too many in the adult fantasy genre. Her inspiration for the books didn’t come from any specific place but from a variety of places or “the lack of”.
That is what draws her to the genre of fantasy: the ability to create a world that is limitless. “In most cases, good defeats evil. That is an ideal that I hang on in today’s world which can be quite scary. It’s the perfect form of escapism,” she said.
This is reflected in many ways in the book. While she writes as a South African Indian woman with a main character who shares that heritage, this doesn’t make identity a central part of the book. “I wanted the representation to be there… but I hope that it’s come across that the Selene realm is quite diverse in who ends up there. I think it’s because of my South African background and I hope that comes across in a positive way.”
However, as the book has already been announced to be a part of the trilogy, there is likely much more to come especially in learning about the magical elements. Papathanasiou said the world will be expanding in terms of the characters but also the worlds. The second and third books are due to be released in the coming years.
This is the book to curl up in front of the heater (or fireplace if available) with a cup of tea and lose yourself in the Selene Realm for a couple of hours. The characters are enchanting, annoying, funny, snarky, loyal and determined. You might find yourself disagreeing with some of their decisions and even yelling at them through pages. If you want to read a fantasy book that isn’t going to require extensive attention to keep track of all the characters and magic, it’s the book to read. However, throughout it all, the book will keep you captivated especially as the feathers drop from Cassia’s necklace.
Published by Flame Tree Press, the book is available in-store and online.