Sunless: Our Own Vampire Diaries? 

Sunless is a tale of loyalty and betrayal; love and animosity; justice and tyranny. Dominated by a blend of misery, suffering, and loss, the story evokes a mixed bag of emotions in the reader’s mind

By Ahmad Pathan 

WHAT happens when a band of bloodthirsty thugs in the town of Divilton conspire against mankind? The story narrated in Sunless, a thriller novella, revolves around the protagonist, Zuke, who was orphaned at a very young age and sets out on a stupefying adventure to unravel his true identity. Initially oblivious to the dark past haunting his murdered family, he leads a life plagued with the untimely losses of his loved ones, as his soul alternates between periods of hope, courage, anger, and sorrow. As he wanders in the jungles of Divilton, the 118-page novella introduces mysterious, supernatural characters who inspire and more often, agitate him to unearth the legacy of his parents from within his heart and join the battle against evil. The book also presents an account of the power struggle between two rival factions of vampires, the Red Skulls and the Black Skulls. The former is sympathetic to humanity and vows to protect them against the latter till their last breath. However, due to the gullible and complacent nature of human beings, as alluded to in the book, the dark forces momentarily triumph over the light of truth. But in the end, there is a clear victory of good over evil, which chalks out a perfect conclusion to the story. The final pages of the book leave the reader on the edge of their seats as Zuke finally attains salvation after fulfilling his mission on earth.

Sunless is a tale of loyalty and betrayal; love and animosity; justice and tyranny. Dominated by a blend of misery, suffering, and loss, the story evokes a mixed bag of emotions in the reader’s mind. One can remark that the title of the novella accurately describes the mood of the book, portraying Zuke as a resilient character who, in spite of being deprived of the light of hope and happiness throughout his life, chooses to side with humanity and its allies for the sake of peace, and seek revenge for the cold-blooded killings of his beloved and his family.

Although the book is divided into 4 parts, the author, Hibban Showkat, has made a beautiful attempt to knit the plot in a manner so as to preserve the sui generis nature of each of these parts. I have observed that the sub-division of the book into 26 distinct chapters plays a minimal role in enhancing the overall plot of the story, as it can be observed that the partitioning has been arbitrarily carried out. However, it does not negatively impact the reading experience in any way. The setting of the novel is predominantly rural and heavily dotted with references to the natural beauty and landscape of Divilton and its adjoining areas, which kindles a plethora of imagery in the reader’s eyes.  As indicated in the prologue, the story is completely detached from reality and is heavily dominated by fictional characters, notably the vampires, John, Alex, and the antagonist, Jordon. Its fictional details are devoid of any underlying values and wisdom, but the tale is genuinely engaging and easy to follow. The story is narrated in first-person, which immerses one into the world that the author is trying to depict. There is a structural consistency within the text, through which each segment of the story unfolds in a way that reveals new details with an aura of mystery, intensity, and suspense.

When I first read the novel, I could sense that Hibban is heavily imbued with the writing style of Western writers like Dickens and Bukowski. It was so refreshing to observe the beauty of the syntax of the English language that was portrayed by the young writer in his work. While engaging in an informal chit-chat a few months ago, Hibban confided in me that he was apprehensive about pouring in all of his thoughts and ideas into the novel, for it could be a bad idea to exhaust all your creativity in your first novel. According to me, the end result was nevertheless a masterpiece for a young boy of age 16.

Hibban was in 10th grade when he published Sunless three years ago, in 2019. The book came into existence after a year of excruciating hard work and perseverance. “I must have rewritten the entire novel a number of times, until I was confident about submitting it to a publishing house. I was on an emotional rollercoaster that year.”

Hibban’s work, despite having an excellent plot and emotional appeal to it, is unable to manifest its true grace owing to a lack of revision and editing by an external agency.

In recent years, a culture of self-publishing has prevailed in the Kashmiri literary circles, especially among young writers and novelists. Self-publishing has in fact attracted criticism due to the absence of proper reviewing authority to weed out inappropriate and copied content, which can be done only by carrying out proper due diligence. The imprints of traditional publishing giants have swarmed the market, resulting in an unhealthy glut of unedited and plagiarized books. Sunless has been an unfortunate victim of this vicious situation. Its pages are full of obvious grammatical errors, which could have been easily sifted out with sincere efforts. The characters, especially that of the Hermit, should have been given expository backstories to further elaborate on the motive of their actions. In chapter 4 of part 3, John refers to an ‘ancient curse’ of their ancestors, which has been casually used to change the entire course of the story without providing any further context. Such discrepancies could have been avoided by the author.

To conclude, the novel is very unique for the region, having been inspired by the famous show, The Vampire Diaries. Individuals looking for thriller novels with a similar storyline should definitely check out the book on e-commerce sites. Hibban Showkat was one of the earliest teenage authors of Kashmir, heralding the era of young writers being celebrated and publicized in the valley. Such prodigies time and again illustrate the amount of talent veiled in the Himalayan mountains, waiting to be tapped for the welfare of our society.

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