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Today I’m thrilled to welcome Ausma Zehanat Khan to the blog! In addition to writing the award-winning mystery novel The Unquiet Dead and its sequels, she’s also the author of the fantasy series The Khorasan Archives. The first novel in this quartet, The Bloodprint, was released in October 2017, and the next book in the series, The Black Khan, will follow later this year—coming in October 2018!

The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan The Black Khan by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The Companions of Hira

My fantasy series, The Khorasan Archives, explores many different themes, but is ultimately about the power and agency of women. The Bloodprint, the first book in the series, features a group of powerful women mystics known as the Council of Hira. They are led by the High Companion, Ilea, who is manipulative, duplicitous and full of secret schemes. But the true head of the Council is my main character, Arian, who is known as the First Oralist of Hira because she’s an expert linguist in a world where language is power.

In creating this women-only group, I tried to meld several different worlds and histories: seventh-century Arabia, more recent events in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, and adventures, miracles and tragedies along the fabled cities of the Silk Road. I also took liberties with the languages of these different regions, providing them with an overlay of English, our modern lingua franca.

I did this for many reasons but mainly because I’d grown up reading histories—particularly of religious traditions—that either excluded women’s voices altogether, or thought of them merely as a side note. I won’t go so far as to say that I re-wrote history—only that I imagined a possible alternate future of that history, where it is women who have the ability to deliver their world from overwhelming darkness.

In histories of seventh-century Arabia that describe the dawn of Islam, I’d come across the names of women in intriguing little glimpses—who with some rare exceptions, were mostly footnotes to a larger story of prophecy and empire. But I wanted to know who these women were and what they might have done if they’d held more power in their hands—or if history had recorded them as doing so. I was particularly interested in the wives of Muhammad, the messenger of Islam, so much so that they inspired my depictions of the women who form the Council of Hira.

So Psalm, the general of Hira’s Citadel was a nod to Umm Salamah, the wise counsellor on whom Muhammad relied for military or strategic advice. Ash, the Jurist, who rules on Hira’s laws, was inspired by Ayesha, a seminal figure who was considered a jurist in her own time, and an authoritative and esteemed source on religious disputations. Mask, Saw, Ware, Rain, Half-Seen, Dija and other members of my Council of Hira, all refer back to figures of this time period.

Some other nods to history or language in the series: the name Ilea is a play on the plural Arabic noun ‘Awliya’, loosely translated as ‘Friend of God’, a rank most often reserved to men. Sinnia, one of my lead characters, is named for Abyssinia—a place of tremendous significance in terms of early encounters between Islam and Christianity, when the Christian king of Abyssinia (the Negus) offered sanctuary to members of the first Muslim community who were fleeing the oppressive actions of the leading tribe of Mecca. My character Sinnia embodies all that was best about that historic interchange—curiosity, courage, wisdom, nobility—and infinite empathy.

Arian, on the other hand, has no single counterpart in history—she’s more of a composite. In modern times she might be a librarian, a linguist, a soldier or a human rights activist. I was thinking of the lawyers, journalists and human rights activists who stand against injustice in their societies. Certain notable women were in my mind. The famous Pakistani lawyer, Asma Jahangir, who dedicated her life to defending the rights of women and minorities. Malala Yousufzai, who was shot by the Taliban, and who is still speaking up for girls’ education around the globe. Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s leading human rights advocate. And Nadia Murad, fighting to free Yazidi women and girls from ISIS captivity.

In writing Larisa and Elena, two important characters in my series who are Basmachi warriors, I was thinking of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and Russian human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova, both of whom were assassinated as a result of their courageous work. Larisa and Elena are also named after two human rights advocates from Uzbekistan.

In the real world, the agency of women is often eclipsed in favor of stories and histories that ignore their contributions. With The Bloodprint and The Khorasan Archives, I try to reclaim that space for the women who shape my books—with characters who are inspired by bold, captivating figures from both the past and the present.

Ausma Zehanat Khan
April 6, 2018

Ausma Zehanat Khan Ausma Zehanat Khan is a British-born Canadian living in the United States, whose own parents are heirs to a complex story of migration to and from three different continents. A former adjunct professor at American and Canadian universities, she holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law, with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre as the main subject of her dissertation. Previously the Editor in Chief of Muslim Girl Magazine, Ausma Zehanat Khan has moved frequently, traveled extensively, and written compulsively. She is the author of the Esa Khattak/Rachel Getty mystery series, in chronological order: The Unquiet Dead, The Language of Secrets, A Death in Sarajevo, Among the Ruins, A Dangerous Crossing. She is also the author of The Khorasan Archives fantasy series published by Harper Voyager. Out now, The Bloodprint is the first book in the series.