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I have a very special place in my heart for Nasja. He was a shiny new character when I began writing 4785: I in 2003, and he very quickly evolved into one of the pivotal characters for the entire series. Like most of the principles, he undergoes a personal transformation over the course of the series, but when he appears in Book One he’s a delightful and very innocent zealot who, when I re-read the manuscript after four years apart from it recently, made me smile with pleasure.
Nasja grew up in a terrible world of persecution and suffering as a young Taijil Uskele (Taija), one that could easily have left him bitter and destroyed. His generation had never known what it was like to live in the Holy Quarter or have any kind of support from the Complex beyond it. They had only known the isolation and desperate poverty that was found in the Taija settlement of the lower city. This was a tenement built especially to house the group who considered themselves separate to the rest of Amnar, and allowed the Tiomke (the formal name given to those who supported the Tiomite Regime) to cast them out amongst the people who hated them the most.
At eighteen, Nasja is the youngest of three brothers, although he also has four sisters, two of which are older. His family situation isn’t immediately apparent until later, but they all have very different reactions to the changing climate in the city. Nasja himself has managed to shield himself from the worst of the oppression he experiences and witnesses by becoming utterly devout to his faith. He doesn’t do this, however, in a negative way. He’s an honest and loving soul, and believes wholeheartedly that everything will work out all right in the end. In a sense he’s the ultimate optimist, and nothing can dent his faith.
Io’s reaction to him in Book One is that of the skeptic: she has been raised in a system that is just as undemocratic as Nasja’s, and although she’s curious about his undying faith, she’s also filled with a great deal of doubt and confusion. One of her issues at the beginning is that she is very isolated in a large and terrifying world, where she can see a lot of wrong being done but feels powerless to prevent it or alleviate it. Nasja, meanwhile, has the protection of being part of his people, with a strong sense of faith. Both are, fundamentally, heart people, working from their instincts rather than logic, but their reactions are very different.
It takes very little to transport Nasja back to his dreamy ideology, as he stares at the moon in the first chapter. He has been using fantasy all his life to protect himself from the effects of living the life he has. Although it might seem childish and foolish to the outsider, it has proven to be a very effective coping mechanism, and one from which he draws incredible strength and resilience.
Amnar is a world being torn apart by oppression and war. For thousands of years, the ancient Empire has lived in peace, yet its capital city has slowly imploded into a place of violence and hatred. Having separated itself off from the rest of the Empire, Amin Duum is now controlled by the unseen but totalitarian Tiom, the population intimidated and powerless under the constant watch of his many guards.
Io is trapped in the middle of this chaotic world, and fascinated by the enigmatic guard Arandes. Keen to find out more about him, she follows him out of the city with her friend Nasja and finds herself witness to a discussion implying that he is plotting to bring the regime for which he works to an end.
So, who is Arandes, and what, exactly, is he up to?