10K80 by Ibtasam Elmaliki July 1, 2021
“Should she send him to the lady? So that he may live his days with another, leaving the Shehzadi to her envy and her grief? Or should he be sent to the lion? Who would surely tear him to shreds before she had a moment to regret her decision? Either way, they could never be together,” Aamna Qureshi reads in her debut fantasy novel The Lady or the Lion.
Aamna Qureshi easefully reads the prologue of her new book, the words putting into life the fantasy world she has built, in her debut novel. The Lady or the Lion is a story of forbidden love and rivalry, set for release in July.
Qureshi, 22, is excited to talk about her novel and to share her passion for writing and books in general. Her tall bookshelf in her room is an affirmation of this. Her work is a representation of her culture, the setting of the young adult fiction novel inspired by Pakistan with Pakistani, Muslim characters.
Her parents emigrated from Islamabad, Pakistan, settling in Long Island, New York, where Qureshi was born and currently resides with her parents and three siblings.
She attended Stony Brook University, graduating with a minor in English but a degree in applied math and statistics, an odd degree choice for a natural-born writer.
At 14, she wrote her first full-length manuscript “just for fun.” Growing up she always loved reading, she shares, especially fantasy and romance novels. It instantly became a pastime for her and sparked an interest in writing.
“It was just a natural reaction for me to want to write my own stories one day and sort of recreate that euphoria that I got from reading a really good book, and trying my own hand at writing,” she says.
Being an author was always a dream, but the uncertainty of the publishing industry geared her towards a more “financially stable” degree.
However, she still continued to write despite her internal doubts. Qureshi’s idea for her debut fantasy novel came to her in 2016, while she was still in high school. And her subsequent trip to Pakistan in the summer of 2017, where she was struck by the beauty of the northern side of the country.
The stunning landscape with high mountains, lush greenery, tranquil rivers, and scenic views, cemented the idea, becoming the inspiration for the world she would create in her fantasy novel.
Before her summer trip, she was used to the western worlds in the fantasy books she grew up reading, not considering including Pakistani culture or characters until that moment.
“It just didn’t even occur to me, because I had never read a book like that.”
Through her work Qureshi is able to share her culture, exposing readers to the beauty of the Urdu language, and a diverse set of South Asian characters.
She also eclipses harmful stereotypes surrounding her culture, especially through her strong female protagonist, the crowned Princess Durkhanai Miangul.
“I really want readers to see that Pakistan isn’t just this stereotypical backwards country,” she says. “It’s really a beautiful country with such a vibrant culture that has so many different parts to it, that I think people will really enjoy.”
She started writing the book in 2018, and got her publishing deal in August 2020, through a Twitter pitch contest. CamCat Books, her current publisher, liked her tweet and invited her to submit to them. After reading her manuscript, they decided to go ahead with publishing.
Qureshi has a clear connection with her readers, constantly keeping them on the loop on her personal blog, and Twitter; one of the many factors for the wide range of approval for her upcoming novel. Qureshi’s audience was the number one thing she kept in mind when writing.
“When I’m writing, I think, I wish this was a book that I read when I was growing up. Something my masjid friends, or my younger cousins will really like, or people that I know will enjoy and relate to and see themselves in.”
Qureshi has received outpouring support from her family, friends, and strangers on the internet, excited to see diverse representation in the book industry.
Early readers on her Goodreads profile gave her rave reviews; connecting most with the diversity of the novel, loving the Pakistani characters, and tidbits of Urdu included.
Faiza Susan, a resident of Wylie, Texas who works as an analyst for United Healthcare, was one of the early readers, giving the novel five stars on Goodreads.
“It really means a lot for me to have a novel representing Pakistani culture, especially representing a story that showed a woman in charge of her life and refusing to accept the circumstances,” says Susan in her response for the exceptional review she gave on Goodreads.
“For a genre that is usually dominated by a western perspective, it was really nice to have a Pakistani show our culture in its full glory,” further explains Susan about The Lady or the Lion.
Susan loved the work most for its love story, but also for the vivid descriptions Qureshi paints through her words.
“I felt instantly transported there.”
Qureshi hopes she’s one of the many writers to change the direction of diversity within the publishing industry, wanting teens now to grow up with stories like hers and “broaden their viewpoints of the world.”
“So many other authors of color are doing such great work in the industry. It is very slow, but there are amazing books being published by other authors of color.”
Always writing, it’s no surprise a sequel for her novel is already in the works. But in the meantime she is just eager for people to read her debut novel.
She is looking forward to her book launch, and wants readers to keep an eye out for any updates on her very first book signing.
“This is just the beginning and things are gonna get even more exciting.”Aamna Qureshi