Emirati author Sara Galadari.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
“Too often we wish for the power to alter the past and change our present. Rarely do we realise the power we have to alter the present and change our future,” says Sara Galadari, author of the dark fantasy novel, “The Elemental.”
And she sets out to alter the present — though it is one heck of a roller coaster ride. The book is a fictional manual on time travel (“time bending”) and swung about by its pages, the reader is left dizzy and suddenly has to grope around to get a fix on his surroundings — which could be a normal side effect of time travel.
Set in Polaris Castle in the year 9377, it depicts the fortunes and misfortunes of Helia, a time traveller whose life stitches the book together, from when she was a toddler (she was only three when the events begin) to the day she was a teen or a young woman. She comes to warn the citizens of Polaris that five years hence, it will have to suffer a catastrophe. Unless prevented.
There is going to be a coup where a group of people — the Elites — who are supposed to be guards and guardians of Polaris, will mount a challenge to get hold of The Elemental — a stone which can control the elements, namely, fire, water, earth and air.
Helia, a direct descendent of the family which was a trustee of The Elemental down the ages, is sent across from future time to the present to block the putschists from fulfilling their nefarious designs. The action takes place in various layers of time, fusing the future, past and present, in one take. It is a 3D view of time itself — Real Time (present); Shadow Time (view of future) and Future Time. We see the characters in the present, who see themselves in future.
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.”
The Aether Stone enables time travel and its operations are delicate. Once it is operated, timelines zoom in and out, plots and subplots are conjured up, reels change fast and furious, and the proceedings are sometimes slightly chaotic, with present and “visiting” characters and absent and “future” people.
So it is sometimes a struggle to keep up. If Polaris has echoes of Hogwarts and the struggle of Good and Evil has reflections of Star Wars, then the love story of antagonists Aragon and Elara — Helia’s parents – have touches of Pride and Prejudice. Flares fly in their early encounters - till the sparks turn into flowers. Nor do the assistants in their battle against enemies seem promising: they have their frictions.
How this team of rivals manage to block harm from befalling Polaris, adds to the punch of the novel. The novel has an explosive start and information on who’s who is given in bits and driblets, indicating good plot control. We do not know initially who the characters are and what they stand for, and the picture becomes clearer only slowly.
Galadari helps us voyeuristically look into the future, without bearing a sense of guilt. She also seems to be familiar with police tactics — intelligence of the future is revealed through the counter-intelligence of the present and investigations to get to the root of the problem is done by questioning strangers, friends, colleagues and acquaintances – much as it is done on Earth today. The relentless pace is broken somewhat by chapters devoted to family, social and professional life. But the unremitting violence is unrelieved by the friendly scenes or collegial bonhomie.
Blood and gore splatter the pages (the book has been ranked No: 1 in the Horror category on Amazon UAE).
Here is how screams are described: “Each of the victims who succumbed had their own kind of scream, depending on how they died. The ones who burned had the most wretched screams, their voices reaching peaks of shrill shrieks that rang and pierced through ears in the most bone chilling way. “The ones who were swept away in hurricanes and forceful gales of wind had their screams taken away from their lungs, their voices swallowed and overpowered by the suffocating howls.
“The ones crushed boulders and earth had weak screams, their bodies too weak and quashed by the weight of the Earth to make a sound.” But the author can be Keatsian when she wants to. Here is a sample: “… a deep green emerald encased in a layer of clay, a sparkling sapphire suspended in a shallow glass sphere of water, a small diamond balanced perfectly on a thin stand, and a raw, uncut ruby embedded into a glowing ember.”
Galadari provides insights into the system (she works in EMAL, Dubai, and undoubtedly has firsthand knowledge). The future echoes the present. “She hated pulling rank on her colleagues to have them follow her orders; she’d much rather their motivation be respect. But she didn’t get to her position by rolling over to insubordinate comrades.” Here is wasta (connections) at work: “Most of the men he’s approached seem to have risen incredibly fast in their military career,” Meila said pointedly.
There are virtues and vices linked to scholarship: “Not anyone could set off to become a Scholar; it took a certain level of circumspection and prudence, and was surprisingly made up of unpleasant, wary, cagy, and sometimes downright sinister individuals.”
There is humour too, touching for being all too infrequent — “Okay, Helia,” said Noiro. “Do you know your Mama’s name?”
Helia nodded. “Mama.” A critical role is played by books, from historian Fital’s book of bedtime stories for children (where the key to salvation is hidden) and the Grand Library and Old Archive in Polaris, to the ancient House of Wisdom in Baghdad. Connections between knowledge, civilisation and power are made. A comparison is made between Polaris and Baghdad and the House of Wisdom. “Have you heard of the House of Wisdom?” the Professor asked. “It was one of the world’s most magnificent libraries during its time. “The library was destroyed, and all of the books and records, all of which were so meticulously preserved and recorded, were destroyed. “Polaris learned from the plight of Babylon, as well as previous civilisations before them. The founders of the Old Archive vowed to take every precaution to protect knowledge.”
Galadari sometimes also bursts into poetry, proving she is a rhymester. Gulf Today too cannot help lisping in rhyme: “Keeping writing more books, They last a lifetime, not looks.”
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