Edit: newest version in post #14.
Thanks for the critiques, Kat_A_Turner and Aightball. Much appreciated.
Aightball, I'll address your comments first. I tweaked things somewhat based on the minor edits you suggested. Just a few points of clarification.
For your comment about wanting to know what makes the tea unique, I agree with you. I've just struggled with a way to fit it in because it's somewhat complicated. The reason the tea is desired abroad (and therefore, the reason the foreign empires are occupying Avak in the first place) is because the tea is slightly hallucinogenic, thanks to a compound in the Avakian soil. It's become a bit of a fad in the two foreign empires, and it can't be grown anywhere but on Avak, because it's not actually the tea that's unique but the soil. Hence the occupation. But the hallucinogenic properties of the tea are not plot relevant beyond that. They don't really play into why the tea is so important to Avakians themselves (that has to do with their cultural and religious history). But more importantly, the hallucinogenic effects don't have an impact on the plot in any way. I worry that if I brought that aspect up in the synopsis without explaining it more thoroughly, it would give the impression that the hallucinogenic effects were a major plot piece. Hence I've left it out. Not certain that's the correct choice, of course, but I just can't think of any way to cleanly work it in, and the word count is long already.
Also, for the fourth paragraph, you said "I thought Hakan was a soldier." He is, but I'm not certain what aspect of that paragraph is causing confusion. Can you clarify at all?
Finally, in the second to last paragraph, you said both of the last two sentences say the same thing. They're actually referring to two different people. The first sentence is about their overcoming Durga's enforcer, and the final sentence is about confronting Durga himself. But I can see how that could be glossed over easily. I've tweaked the beginning of that paragraph to hopefully make it more clear that Durga's enforcer is the primary subject of that paragraph. Your other tweaks, I agreed with and implemented as suggested. Thanks again!
Kat_A_Turner, thanks so much for your thorough breakdown. Unfortunately, you were looking at an older version. I forgot to strikethrough the old version in the first post, so I've done that now to avoid confusing anyone else! But a lot of your critique still applies to the newer version, so I've made some pretty substantial edits based on your comments.
First, concerning overall flow and confusion when switching from Hakan to Nasira and back. That was the chief problem I addressed in the earlier rewrite, so hopefully that has already resolved the issues you had there. Personally, I think that section flows much better, and I think it helps with the potential confusion of having three named characters. I've tried cutting it down to two. It's just too messy for my tastes.
Your comments about Nasira's sister were spot on, and I've reworked the paragraph revealing her twist significantly. I think her motivation is much clearer now, and the passion that leads her to betray Nasira is examined a little more closely. This also serves as a contrast to Nasira's own character, so I think the character development has gotten better in both directions. Thanks for your insight. It was very helpful.
So here's the updated version. Thanks again to everyone who's helped!
Two foreign empires have occupied the island city-state Avak for the past twenty years, exporting Avak's unique tea, a pillar of the island’s history and culture. These empires are kept in check by each other and DURGA, an Avakian gangster who owns most of Avak's tea farms.
NASIRA leads an underground resistance fighting to save her home and its heritage. Nasira believes that Durga fights only for his own greed, and she has a plan to usurp him and use his monopoly to fight back against the foreign empires. Her work is complicated by her marriage to HAKAN, a foreign soldier disgusted by his country’s exploitation of Avak, but ignorant of his wife's double life.
Nasira’s plans are interrupted when Hakan’s best friend, one of Durga’s lieutenants, is publicly executed by masked revolutionaries. Hakan wants revenge, and Nasira wants to help him. Until Hakan shows her the murder weapon: her own gun. She's being set up. Hakan doesn’t know the gun is hers, but it’s only a matter of time before he finds out. Denied aid by his own government, Hakan turns to Durga. Hakan might see the gangster as an opportunistic parasite, but they share a goal: discovering who killed Hakan's friend.
Nasira races to find the real killer before Hakan and Durga trace the gun back to her. But as soon as she begins, unknown assailants kidnap her sister. Nasira becomes obsessed with finding her, ignoring her duties to the resistance. Convinced that Durga is responsible, she spies on him and learns that Durga is not opposing the occupation, as he has always claimed. He has been cooperating with officials from Hakan’s homeland for months. Using propaganda and false-flag attacks, they have been channeling Avak's anger towards the other empire. They intend to spark open rebellion with a massive bombing, turning Avak's citizens into an unwitting army to drive out the other empire. Then the leaders of Hakan's homeland and Durga can rule Avak unopposed. Nasira is forced to put her personal battles aside to finish what she started: freeing Avak from Durga and the foreign empires. Even if it means losing her sister.
Before Nasira can make her next move, however, Hakan confronts her. He and Durga have learned that the gun is hers. Durga is now hunting her, and Hakan, who has been forced to betray his own country to protect her secrets, demands answers for years of lies. Nasira confesses everything: her involvement in Avak's underworld, her fight to free her country, and how she was framed for the murder. She kept these secrets so Hakan wasn’t forced to choose between his homeland and Avak. Hakan is heartbroken.
Then Nasira tells him about Durga’s plan, and they both agree that their personal demons will have to wait. They need to save Avak.
Now united, they first must discover who really killed Hakan's friend and why they’re pushing Avak into a gang war. Nasira has learned that someone has been buying enormous quantities of salt. Following this lead, they capture the person responsible for manipulating all of them from the shadows: Nasira's own sister.
Devastated by the betrayal, Nasira demands an explanation. Nasira’s sister claims that she and Nasira live in different worlds. Unlike Nasira, her sister is too young to remember Avak as it was before the foreigners arrived. She has no fond memories of their past, knows no heritage worth saving. All she knows is the occupation — and a burning desire to end it, no matter the cost. She framed Nasira for the attacks on Durga to distract the gangster, then she faked her own kidnapping to distract Nasira. She planned to salt Avak's farms, burn the trees, and turn the soil barren. She would destroy Avak's tea, its economy, and a key piece of its history. She was willing to bring Avak to the brink of ruin and starvation in order to save it.
Nasira is crushed. While she cannot forgive her sister, her duty to Avak comes first. Her own crew is being hunted by Durga. She needs her sister's crew and her resources. Nasira destroys her sister’s stockpiled salt. The only way her sister can save Avak now is to cooperate with Nasira and Hakan. Her sister reluctantly agrees, and together, they formulate a plan.
Before they can make their move, Durga captures Hakan, using him as bait to lure out Nasira. But Nasira cannot abandon her home to save him. She can only push forward and hope she can rescue Hakan in the process.
During the night, Nasira and her sister post notices throughout the city, calling on Avak's citizens to meet the following morning. At this meeting, Nasira unveils the truth about Durga and the foreign government seeking to control them. The anger that has been burning within Avak’s people for twenty years explodes. Riots break out across the city, as the mob surges towards the foreign embassies.
Before Durga can flee, Nasira, her sister, and their crew assault his compound. But Durga’s soldiers are waiting and slaughter many of their people in an ambush. In the chaos, Nasira sneaks past the fighting to confront Durga alone.
She reaches Durga's office. There she finds Durga’s terrifying enforcer, holding a gun to Hakan's head. Durga’s enforcer offers her a sadistic choice. She may confront Durga unopposed, but he will kill Hakan. Or he will release Hakan and fight them both himself. Nasira knows this man's reputation. He will likely kill both of them in a fight. But there are limits to how much she can sacrifice for duty. She cannot let this man execute Hakan. Nasira fights, with Hakan at her side. They both receive injuries they will carry with them for the rest of their lives, but they succeed. Together, they confront Durga and kill him for what he has done to their home.
Avak lost much in the riots. Nasira had always wanted to spare her home this violence, and she struggles to see what they have accomplished as a victory. But the occupation is over. Hakan and Nasira do not know how they will begin to rebuild their city and their lives. But they both have a home once again, and Avak is finally free.