Blond and brunette realms unite in T.M. Caruana’s fantasy novel: Arakzeon City.

Game of Thrones meets Trois Hommes et un Couffin with a dash of Romeo and Juliet in the book topping your summer reading list, T.M. Caruana’s latest fantasy novel Arakzeon City.

This stand-alone novel departs from her opus magnum heptalogy about divine creature Susy and her sevenfold stellar system, to broadcast instead an (almost) supernatural-free message of unity, equality and democracy.

T.M. Caruana’s with her latest fantasy novel Arakzeon City

Arakzeon City’ heroes do possess some form of magic, which the author describes as an ‘individual enhanced ability’, but not to the otherworldly extent of Susy and friends, so that this novel escapes the genre of compte fantastique to actually don a fanta-political aura promoting the contemporary utopia of equality for all ethnicities sharing one country.

The book opens on the childhood friendship blossoming into puppy love between Navitian Megan and Emphulette Marcus, the jocular son of Arakzeon City’s mayor and evil dictator, the ‘Mirey’ Gustus Gravelleli, who is about to launch an ethnic cleansing in town by suddenly ostracising all brown-haired Navitians, who have so far lived in harmony with dark-haired Emphulettes for a long time after the fair-haired Wiccors’ extinction. Their carefree games are abruptly interrupted by Megan’s parents teleporting her away into an enchanted forest cloaked by a spell, where she learns that the Wiccors are pretty much alive and thriving in exile, and she is destined to donate her soul – together with her body – to burly Birkim, price of an allied clan, and to become their princess. In fact she is shockingly revealed to be not a Navitian, but a Wiccor, descendant of the oldest and purest royal lineage.

“My inspiration came from Romeo and Juliet: I wanted to write a romance story with a fantasy twist that illustrated the restraints of love due to conflicts in society,” T.M. Caruana says about her make-believe three-trichological world, in which Wiccors are blond, Navitians are auburn, and Emphulettes are brunettes. “I have distinguished the three different kinds with their different physical appearances, so yes the Wiccors are fair with blond hair and tribal structure, the Navitians have chestnut hair and are from a rural agricultural background, the Emphulettes have black hair and live in urban societies,” says the author, who bases the plot on the generational gap and the challenge to unquestioned obedience to tradition. The Wiccors are thus named because they are likened to witches and warlocks, each developing a unique and distinctive ability useful to the tribe as a whole, with a clan-based society and physical traits akin to the Scandinavian civilisation the author grew up in, while Emphulettes display an ability to feel read their interlocutors’ emotions telepathically.

Chillingly, this fiction envisages disturbing scenarios on the outcome of enshrining political rule in eugenics. The possibilities of war sparking from ethnic cleansing are transposed in a fantasy world that makes it no less disturbing, especially when it involves the choice between different but equally important family allegiances. “I wanted to describe the conflict between communities and how fear is sometimes what makes people make irrational choices. Tolerance, understanding and communication must be applied to overcome differences. Like in my other books, the ultimate message is an exhortation to be kind to each other and accept and value the differences that make each individual essential to humankind.” And if Therese is the master of putting the ‘kind’ in humankind, she denies autobiographical elements being sprinkled at all in the plot: she admits to having no magic powers, except spinning literary plots that keep you up all night reading!

The theme of arranged marriage for royal heiresses is touched upon: Megan is betrothed against her knowledge and will, and her virginity becomes the seal to the Wiccors’ survival. “I wanted to portray a clear-cut ceremonial point in time when the Wiccors are bestowed their magical ability,” Therese explains. When Megan is commanded to set her feelings aside for the nation’s greater good and to consummate with a predestined she has never met before, she eventually realises, like the headstrong teenager she is, that Marcus is her true love. Her fleeing back to Arakzeon City unchains a fortunate series of events that make her bump into her hero on the night of her eighteenth birthday, when her ritual defloration unravels through a curious twist that ultimately leads to her rebirth and revelation of her true colours. Therese considers it synonymous with eternal devotion because the carnal act implies the fusion of souls: “I went for the romantic feel and I personally believe that it is romantic when people abstain from intimate relations until they have found someone special.”

The narrative is always in first person, in Megan’s words at first, until it modestly slinks through a prim and proper erotic scene which would pass the Index scrutiny with flying colours; after Megan is locked in the dungeons, the narrator switches to Marcus’s perspective, as he abruptly turns from warlord’s spoilt brat into her knight in shiny armour. And so, city-boy Marcus has to learn to live in a hostile world where he doesn’t know whom to trust, where modern commodities are unheard of – but coffee is, thankfully! – and where bad tempers are tempered by the stark sense of duty and honour of the Bon Savage lifestyle.

“In the Wiccors’ society I can see some similarities with the concept of the Bon Savage portrayed by Age of Enlightenment French philosophers,” Therese observes, especially in the concept of Wiccors’ contentment with natural life, away from the lures of the city, in order to survive the self-appointed supreme ruler’s machinations. “Their aim is to topple the dictator, end their own exile, and restore harmony and enlightenment in the capital not just for themselves, but also for the other ethnic groups victims of an authoritarian egotistic figure who is willing to sacrifice his only son to the raison d’état.”

And as the tale of city and countryside draws to a close on a sombre note, we look forward to a sequel in which Marcus and Megan’s lovechild baby Jelena could play a bigger part. “I believe there is scope for a sequel, but for now this is a stand-alone novel,” Therese declines to comment any further: “I have a few other stories I wish to write first,” she limits herself to disclose.

At the moment she is setting the fantasy genre aside and testing her crime drama skills in Food Frenzy, to be published soon. “Let’s see how that one is received, however my passion remains the fantasy romance adventure genre.”

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