Dec 252023
Sci-fi turns coming of age – The Key [Review]
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Book Title: The Key – Sands of Time Book Two
Author: Payal Dhar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger YA (YA imprint of Speaking Tiger)
Type: Paperback
Pages: 268 pages
Recommended age: 13 years onwards (themes of gender fluidity, sexuality, relationship between same-gender couple. My 10-year-old fantasy-nut read it.)

Payal Dhar’s fantasy novel ‘The Key’ is the second part of the “Sands of Time” trilogy. The trilogy tells the story of a thirteen-year-old Maya, living a mundane life in Bangalore until the arrival of Noah, an enigmatic figure who reveals that she is meant for bigger things — a training-to-be Defender of the balance of the worlds.

In Book 1, ‘The Prophecy‘ (you can read my review on this website here), Maya is introduced to the world of Olaman and Amrozan, and story unfolded with Maya discovering her identity as the “Preferred,” destined to become a Halvard, a Defender of the Sands. Under Noah’s guidance, Maya, the youngest Preferred, faces the looming threat of the Warriors that threaten her, her new-found life and her new-found friends. The Warriors seek control over the Sands of Time, the key of which lies with a specific Preferred. The first book concluded with the revelation of the identity of that pivotal Preferred.

‘The Key’ picks up from there, addressing the unresolved question of Yazid’s fate, and the unfolding of what the Key means and the journey of bringing Yazid back. This time, the stakes are higher, with the Warriors much closer.

This time, it is also for Yazid to reclaim the lost agency that her Watcher has taken away from him.

This time, Maya is faced with the quetions of what the Key can do, how much power it can wield and the dilemma of what that means for her. Maya is haunted by the potential darkness within herself, particularly after witnessing the impact of the key on Yazid. This dilemma adds layers to Maya’s character, prompting introspection and self-discovery.

While the adventure starts off well, it loses some momentum in the middle, perhaps because of excessive descriptions and, what I felt, were lack of significant developments. However, the story regains its pace towards the end, offering a thrilling and intriguing conclusion. The mysterious identity of the Warriors among the Defenders, is still left unresolved.

Beyond its narrative of adventure and intrigue, ‘The Key’ shines in its exploration of profound themes. Maya’s journey evolves into a poignant coming-of-age story, marked by self-doubt, identity exploration, and the intricate dynamics of relationships. The narrative delves into themes of gender fluidity, crushes, and romantic love. Payal portrays the nuanced relationship between Stephen and Jan skilfully. Equally compelling is the mentor—kid-on-cusp-of-maturity dynamic between Noah and Maya, providing emotional depth and even brief moments of subtle humour.

While ‘The Key’ does not match the grip and intensity of book 1, ‘The Prophecy’, I would still recommend it to readers of science fiction, fantasy, and coming-of-age novels. I look forward to reading the next in the trilogy, to not only uncover what happens next, who the Warriors amongst the Defenders are, but keen to see how the characters mature and their relationships evolve.

In summary, ‘The Key’ is a fantasy thriller, with a nuanced exploration of the challenges of growing up, skilfully captured by Payal Dhar.

Added by Asha: An excerpt from Mandira’s review of THE PROFECY has been included on the back cover of THE KEY!

Back cover of The Key

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Disclaimer: Mandira is part of the #kbcReviewerSquad and received this book as a review copy from the publisher via kbc. She is the author of the award winning book Children of the Hidden Land.

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