While I was wowed by the author Krishna’s short story in Magical Women and have been waiting to read her latest Beast (which my trusted friends really swear by), it didn’t occur to me that I already owned her debut trilogy and never actually read it. Thankfully I realized my folly and picked up this first book for the IndianLitReadathon which happened last month and it was definitely an awesome decision *pats my back*…
Mahabharata is my favorite book in the world and nothing will ever change that. It’s had the most influence on my life, so it’s not surprising that I tend to turn unwittingly to reading the epic when I’m in need of comfort. In the recent years, I have also been able to read a few reimaginations and reinterpretations of this story by modern authors, and I’m always mesmerized by how many different ways this story could be told. In this same vein comes the author Krishna, and I’m wowed by her courage to have taken up this task right in her debut novel. The author has decided to strip the divinity from the epic and retell it as a socio-political saga of the kingdoms of Aryavarta, and I think she succeeds at it very well. The central conflict around which the story revolves here is something new, and that definitely makes it feel like a refreshing tale. The world building is done excellently, slowly revealing bits and pieces, so that it never feels info dumpy. I loved the descriptions of the kingdoms and the palaces and the terrain in general, my particular favorite being the absolutely stunning depiction of Dwaraka – I could actually feel the sun and the waves and the total awe that Partha feels when he arrives at its gates. The author also makes the characters here utterly human, with all their complicated motivations and moral dilemmas and I loved seeing them in a new light. There are lots of mysteries that are unraveled as the story progresses, but the particular reveals at the end surprised me and I’m just so excited to dive into the sequel immediately. The story is also just close enough to the canon that you might guess what could happen next, but different enough that you’ll be surprised by how the events unfold. The author manages to accentuate this feeling by giving some of the characters their not so popular names, so it never feels like you are just reading the Mahabharata.
The story follows multiple POV characters, so we get to know what everyone is thinking and the political plans they are weaving. The major perspectives we get are Govinda and Panchali, and I was just utterly fascinated by their relationship. Govinda loves his people and dedicates his whole life to be able to create a lasting empire, but he is also very dispassionate and almost emotionless in the way he manipulates everyone, which makes him pretty unlikable to everyone and also very difficult to get to know him closely. Panchali on the other hand is fiery, very intelligent and capable and is appalled at the way women are discriminated against and prevented from being in ruling positions. However, she is also pragmatic and uses her smarts to run her kingdom as well as understand the long term implications of everything happening around across the empire. Vyasa, Sanjaya, Asvathama and Shikhandin also play very important roles and it was fascinating to see them as much more developed characters. Dharma is probably the one Pandava whose depiction really surprised me, and I never knew it was possible to show him in such a morally grey light. He is such a follower and almost too much of a believer of destiny and righteousness, without actually doing any work for creating an empire – I can almost see how this will lead to his downfall and can’t wait to explore it all in the next book.
If you love Mahabharata reinterpretations, I would definitely recommend this book to you. If you are okay with stories that don’t necessarily stick to the canon and remove the mysticism of the epic in favor a socio-political fantasy saga, then you’ll enjoy this a lot. The world building is impressive, the characters very very refreshing and fascinating and the reveals totally captivating, that’ll keep you guessing as to what might happen next. Kaurava…. here I come !!!