Chicken House has acquired The Balloon Thief, an uplifting YA fantasy novel from debut author Aneesa Marufu that will explore themes of extremism, racism and misogyny.
Senior editor Kesia Lupo bought world rights from Lucy Irvine at Peters Fraser and Dunlop. US and Canadian rights were pre-empted by Scholastic based on a partial submission.
The synopsis reads: "For Khadija, the only escape from her father’s arranged betrothal is the sky. When she spots a rogue hot air balloon fighting against its ropes, she leaps at the chance for adventure. Khadija soon finds an unlikely ally in a poor glassmaker’s apprentice, Jacob. But Jacob is a hāri, and Khadija a Ghadæan. The hāri are oppressed and restless – their infamous terrorist group, the Hāreef, have a new fearsome leader. And the ruling Ghadæans are brutal in their repression. Soon, a deadly revolution threatens their friendship and their world. The Hāreef use forbidden magic, summoning jinn – wicked spirits made of fire – to enact their revenge, forcing Jacob and Khadija to choose what kind of a world they want to save."
The debut will be published in paperback in March 2022 and will feature cover artwork from Catherine Rowe.
Lupo said: "Reading The Balloon Thief for the first time, in the throes of the pandemic, was like being cradled and swept away by a giant, beautiful hot air balloon. Aneesa has created a dazzling escapist adventure which explores serious themes of extremism, racism and misogyny with an astonishing lightness of touch. I’m in love with the imaginative world of this novel and am so excited to launch Aneesa’s writing career here at Chicken House."
Marufu commented: "This book started out, first and foremost, as a way to fuel my obsession with hot air balloons. Since then, The Balloon Thief has evolved into something my teenage self would be truly proud of. It is a book that will make people feel uncomfortable – I don’t think there is an easy way to talk about race – but it’s a conversation that needs to happen, and my hope is that the message of love, friendship and forgiveness in this book shines through."