A mother tries to protect her daughter, breathlessly fleeing across rubbled castle grounds as an army hunts them down, burning everything in their wake.
A few pages into The Elemental, and it is clear that Sara Galadari’s newest novel is a marked departure from her previous releases. Fans of the Emirati author will recognise her terse prose and kaleidoscopic personifications, but the novel’s dark and fantastical setting is new ground – one that Galadari confidently claims with a ricocheting plot line and a hair-raising touch of gore.
The novel’s ominous tone has a lot to do with the period in which the author wrote The Elemental, which at one point crowned the bestselling list of horror books on Amazon UAE.
“I started working on The Elemental during the first lockdown of the pandemic,” Galadari tells The National. “Writing has always been an outlet for me and since we were all stuck at home trying to survive the first wave of the pandemic and adjust to the new normal, I turned to writing to get through it all.”
The pandemic inspired Galadari to confront thoughts, fears and themes that are darker than those found in her previous works, which include her 2013 debut City of Stars, a romance novel, and her whimsical 2015 release The Pigeon Chronicles.
“When first conceptualising The Elemental, I knew I wanted it to be a fantasy story, but it wasn’t clear to me at first that it was going to be more of a dark fantasy."
As work on the novel progressed, Galadari says it began to take on a life of its own, going down a much darker path and treading into the realm of horror. Having already tackled romance and comedy in her past novels, Galadari says she was looking forward to trying out something new.
“So far, each of my novels stands alone,” she says. “Each falls under their own genres. I love to explore writing in different styles and catering to different audiences, and it helps keep my creativity on its toes.”
At the forefront of The Elemental is Elara, a sharp-witted heroine with a steely resolve and sense of justice, but who also has self-doubt and an uneasy conscience, especially after she discovers she plays a key part in instigating the future’s cataclysmic events.
“She has a few flaws that become her own obstacles,” Galadari says. “She seconds guesses herself at crucial times and struggles with facing her own guilt. I wanted to portray a character who had her flaws blatantly depicted to show readers that everyone, even someone who succeeds in saving the world, has moments where they feel weak and face failure.”
Galadari was inspired by her pre-pandemic travels when building the world for The Elemental.
“I was exploring old historical sites and castle ruins in Portugal, namely the Castelo dos Mouros and Castelo de S Jorge, as well as some old forts in Ras Al Khaimah,” she says. “Reading about the events that transpired on the very grounds I was walking on invoked a sense of wonder and I began to imagine the different lives people must have led during those times.”
The novel also incorporates several elements of maths and physics, presenting them to readers in the form of cryptic messages that Elara must decode to save the world.
“The cryptic messages Elara encounters are a set of numbers written in a journal,” Galadari says. “She tries to crack the codes with mathematical theories and the laws of physics.
“I had a few challenges in trying to figure out how to best depict the encrypted messages, referring to mathematics and physics while also holding the audience’s attention. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of sounding more like a textbook.”
Galadari says she was caught off guard by the news that her novel had made it to the bestselling list on Amazon UAE.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be a bestselling author but I didn’t anticipate it. I was over the moon to have my novel out and have it received so positively by readers.”
The author says she is already thinking about a follow-up to The Elemental, but that nothing is set in stone yet.
“There are a few ideas for a sequel, but nothing confirmed yet. I’m also currently toying with the idea of writing a children’s book next. There is a world of possibilities."