Monday, November 6, 2017

"The Great and the Small" by A. T. Balsara

The Great and the Small
by A. T. Balsara

The Great and the Small by A. T. Balsara

The Great and the Small by A. T. Balsara is currently on tour with Bewitching Book Tours. The tour stops here today for a guest post by the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Deep below the market, in the dark tunnels no human knows exist, a war has begun. Lead by the charismatic Beloved Chairman, a colony of rats plots to exterminate the ugly two-legs who have tortured them in labs, crushed them with boots, and looked at them with disgust for as long as anyone can remember.
When the Chairman’s nephew is injured and a young two-leg nurses him back to health, however, doubt about the war creeps in. Now the colony is split - obey the Chairman and infect the two-legs with the ancient sickness passed down from the Old Ones, or do the unthinkable ...

Excerpt in which Ananda and Fin meet
Ananda eased the door open. Patting along the wall, she found the light switch and flipped it on. She stepped slowly down the stairs and peered into the room. The light bulb cast harsh shadows across the concrete floor. “Hello?”
Something moved. Ananda stifled a scream. A small lump quivered under the window, in a mess of metal and fur. Her dad’s trap had caught something.
She moved closer. The creature’s eyes were half-closed. Soot-grey fur capped its head and ran down its back.
White fluff trembled between steel jaws. And then she saw its tail: naked and pale, stretched out like a bristly snake.
A rat.
Ananda jumped back. The thing twitched and its eyelids fluttered, but it sank back onto the floor, ribs heaving.
She crept closer. Her shadow flickered across the creature.
Its eyes popped open.
It squealed, thrashing against the trap. Fresh blood seeped onto the concrete, adding to the dried pool already there. Ananda stepped back and the rat went still.
Wearily it closed its eyes. Its head slumped down.
What was she supposed to do now? Was it somebody’s pet? It looked like the rat from the market, but that was impossible.
Ananda leaned forward to see how badly it was hurt. The rat went crazy again. It squealed shrilly, biting at its trapped leg to free itself.
“Okay! Okay!” she said, and moved back. This was not someone’s pet. It was wild, no matter how it looked. And that meant it might have fleas. Fleas infected with plague bacilli.
Backing up the basement stairs, Ananda turned and raced out the back door and to the shed. She hauled open the rickety door and scanned the shelves. There were thick gardening gloves. She put them on. A dusty cinder block sat on the shed floor. She picked it up, staggered back a step under its weight, and waddled into the house and back down the stairs.
Standing over the rat, she gripped the cinder block with both hands. She’d try to make it painless.
Fin couldn’t move. His hind leg felt bitten in two. Some evil thing had its teeth into him. Why didn’t it just kill him? What was it waiting for?
The floor was cold. A chill crept through his fur, into his bones. The red curtain of pain shifted. He thought, drifting, It’s not so bad….
The peaceful dark was shattered. Buzzing light split the gloom. Red pain bit into him again. He pressed his eyes closed, trembling.
A shadow moved over him. Fin opened his eyes a crack and saw two boggle eyes staring down at him. He thrashed against the cold teeth. Bit at his leg to free it. “Help! Help! Papa!” he screamed.
The bulbous eyes floated away. Panting, Fin stopped, listening. He couldn’t see it, but the thing was nearby. He could hear it breathing. Lifting his nose, he feebly scanned the air and froze. There it was, an odour rank and pungent: two-leg stench.
The eyes hovered close again, its foul smell filling Fin’s nostrils. He shrieked, “Let me go! Let me go!” yanking at his pinned foot. Once again the ugly two-leg moved back. Was it toying with him? Like a cat toying with a mouse?
Barely able to make out its blurry shape, Fin threw ultrasonic screams at it, calling it every insult he could think of, but his cries fell like stones, unheard. The thing was too brutish to understand him.
He was grateful Papa couldn’t witness his shame. He was no Hero of the Tunnels now.
When the two-leg stood over him one last time, Fin did not feel a thing. He had already fainted.

Praise for the Book
"The Great and the Small captures two worlds quite well with all the style and expression one can find in a quality children's book. The prose is quite well done, and the illustrations work nicely. Whether it is the underground animal kingdom described, or the world of human beings depicted here, the book keeps the reader interested and mingles these worlds thoughtfully into a plot that keeps the pages moving. I would gladly include this book on my classroom bookshelf or in my personal library." ~ JD

Guest Post by the Author
The Great & the Small: Raising the Stakes
One of my favorite books growing up was Watership Down, a story about a warren of rabbits fighting to survive against a totalitarian system. Yes, they were fuzzy, cute rabbits, but the story worked, because they were fighting within their own kind. For my book, fuzzy bunnies wouldn’t cut it, because the enemy was going to be mankind itself. So, I set my story in a rat colony. And I wanted this to be an epic battle between good and evil, rats and humans.
But how could I raise the stakes? How could rats be a threat to human beings a way that no other animal could be?
The Great Mortality
History provided the answer. The Bubonic Plague of the 1300s wiped out almost half of the population in Europe. And this was after it had already wiped out millions on its passage through Asia, on its way down the Silk Road, an ancient trading route between East and West.
The Plague, by Marcantonio Raimondi, circa 1515-16
The Bubonic Plague was a plague bacillus, or bacteria, that was found in the belly of infected fleas, fleas who, in turn, lived on rats. As traders traveled the Silk Road, it is thought that stowaway rats spread the plague until it caught and ran like wildfire across the continent. The strength and deadliness of the 1300s plague continue to puzzle scientists today.
What if the rat colony, headed by the Stalinesque "Beloved Chairman", used the Bubonic Plague as a biological weapon? That would raise the stakes. Even after centuries, there is a chill that runs up the collective human spine when we hear the word "plague".
Not So Different From Us
From eyewitness accounts from the 1300s, I learned that people 650 years ago sounded a lot like we would if it were happening to us.
The Seventh Age of the World: The Image of Death, 1493 Book
Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle
All of a sudden, these dusty figures from history became living, breathing people trying to deal with a horrific situation as best they could. The artwork from the time, and from later plagues, shows the scale of the people’s horror and revulsion ... from images of dancing skeletons, to dead villages, to heartbreaking depictions of children being led away by grim Death. It’s hard to not feel pity for these fellow humans who were doomed to live in such troubled times.
Hans Holbein the Younger, 1500s, from Dance of Death series of woodcuts
Some dealt with it heroically. Others dealt with it ... well ... not so good. There were accounts of selfless courage, of people giving their lives to tend the dying. There were accounts of selfishness - parents who abandoned sick children because they feared catching the plague.
That frailty of what it means to be human, from the heroic to the cowardly, fascinates me, as well as our ability to choose our own course, and in many cases, change course.
With the Black Death, my rat colony had the deadliest weapon known to humankind.

About the Author
A. T. Balsara
A. T. Balsara lives in Ontario, Canada, with her husband. She is the proud mom of two adult daughters, two dogs, two cats, and two hives of bees. 
She writes and illustrates for young children up to young adults.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of three ebook copies of The Great and the Small by A. T. Balsara.