Title: Laila and the Witches of Kalazar
Author: Salimah Dhanani
Published: June 5th 2014 by author
Paperback, 201 pages
Genre: YA & NA > Romantic Fantasy
Laila has a secret. She is the granddaughter of one of the most powerful witches of Pakistan, Shakil Kalazar. Ever since she was ten years old and the Kalazars killed her mother, Laila vowed to resist her own supernatural powers and lead a life devoid of witchcraft. She is now nineteen. Everything changes the day that her father is shot, when she realizes that her powers have become stronger and darker, now that she is able to transfer life energy using transkinesis. That is also the day that Laila meets Mark Mousakes, the young American surgeon who operates on her father. Mark is witty, thoughtful and painfully handsome. As much as Laila tries to avoid Mark, she finds their paths crossing and their mutual attraction impossible to deny. With her mother's killer in pursuit, Laila becomes embroiled in a plot of kidnapping and child trafficking, and a maelstrom of dark and dangerous witchcraft. Laila must now embrace her unique abilities as she sets off for a remote part of Pakistan to face the Kalazars in this gripping tale of magic, sacrifice, family secrets and the power of love.
When Laila and the Witches of Kalazar by Salimah Dhanani first came to my attention, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to dive into a new book with a new setting, new people, and basically a new and different culture. At the same time I realized that I needed to change my habits of sticking with stories that are always based on and/or similar to each other in characters, country, and setting. For once, I would be able to travel—story-wise—to Asia and learn the habits of a different culture. Diversity was calling me to this book and as soon as I turned the last page, I was not disappointed.
It’s the eerie silence. It makes me want to turn around and call for help. Instead, I squeeze my eyes closed as I enter the bookshop. When I open them again, my body freezes. (PROOF 2)
From the start, Laila and the Witches of Kalazar had an easy flow that made it a quick and effortless read. From the moment MC Laila Khan found her father wounded with a gunshot at his bookstore, to her first meeting with Mark Mousakes, to hanging out with her best friend Lubna and finding themselves in a dangerous situation, to learning the secrets of the Kalazars and what it has to do with her deceased mother, to meeting her grandfather for the first time, and to meeting Bakhtiar—the antagonist of the story and the man Laila must defeat with her inherited powers—were all interconnected in some way and became a whirlwind of events. It all led up to Laila either accepting herself for who she was born to be or giving it all up.
My powers frighten me sometimes. So I have tried to make myself numb against any strong-emotion—like my mother, I know what is at stake. (PROOF 12)
The story naturally had different words that pertained to the MC’s culture, so every once in a while there were a few foreign words. Thankfully, with quick notes it became easy for me to decipher the meaning of those words when I reencountered it in the text. Besides that, Salimah did an absolutely amazing job of showing, telling, and occasionally distributing feeling from Laila. The entire time I read Laila and the Witches of Kalazar, it was easy to see the events that took place like a movie in my head.
I walk into the dark house and go to the living room window to watch Mark drive away. Just before I turn away, I think that I see a movement in the bushes outside my house. I squint to get a better look. But there’s no one. (55)
As much as Laila was important to the story as a whole, the secondary characters Salimah created were also important. Characters such as Mark and Lubna helped Laila keep herself grounded and not lose herself to the darkness that lurked because of her special powers. Mark was also Laila’s love interest and seeing how their relationship developed and progressed led to a lot of cute moments. Salimah also managed to balance a lot of elements in the story. Laila’s school, home, social, and paranormal life were mostly divided, so it didn’t interfere or cross paths with each other all the time—naturally making it a lot easier to understand those different parts of Laila’s life. What I liked most about Laila and the Witches of Kalazar was the cultural difference. It’s easy to think you know about a certain place because of what you read, hear, and see but reading this story changed all of that. When I finished reading this book, I felt a certain deep respect for every place I thought I knew, but in fact didn’t. I was glad I could learn new phrases and write down what they meant or look up the styles of clothing these characters wore. It was all very humbling. I could only hope other readers would feel the same while reading this story.
It is not how much practice I’ve had, but the amount of control that I’ve been able to exert over my abilities that makes me strong. (PROOF 105)
Laila and the Witches of Kalazar by Salimah Dhanani was overall an entertaining and unique romantic-fantasy story. Until the moment I finished turning the last page, did the story grab my interest and keep me awake into the late hours of night. From page one I was fully on Laila’s side and admired her growth as the main character of the story. Instead of writing about perfect characters with no fears or flaws, Salimah wrote exactly that; characters with fears and flaws. The cultural difference and language only helped enhance this story into what it is now—an amazing first debut. I would like to see what more there is for Laila and Mark to face together and see their relationship develop even more. Although it felt like the last few scenes of action could have been developed much more, the story left a lot open for readers to wonder about for book two. I can only hope Salimah will bring a lot more of this concept into the next book. I definitely recommend this unique story and hope other readers enjoy it as I did.