It’s been a while since I’ve felt invested and excited enough to binge read a fantasy trilogy, but that’s exactly what Govinda did to me. I couldn’t even imagine reading anything other than this sequel because I had to know what happens next. And I’m so happy that I did exactly that. This review might have some spoilers for the first book, so please be mindful of that before proceeding.
The magic that the author wove in Govinda is still present in this sequel, but she also manages to make this a bit more different in tone because of the ominous events that take place. While the first book had us moving across Aryavarta, the world here is expanded to include the desert lands of Matsya and I loved how it was described as a kingdom that strove to be prosperous despite its isolation from the empire for generations. The writing is as exciting as before, with so many more twists and turns and betrayals this time around and I just couldn’t put down the book. The story actually veers a lot more from the canon in this installment, but it’s very much organic to the author’s reimagining and I enjoyed these new turns. I guess the only disappointment was that there wasn’t much of action this time around, but I’m pretty sure we’ll get a lot more of that in the finale. There were also a lot more philosophical and existential discussions in the book, which were fascinating for the most part but could also jolt me out of the story if I wasn’t feeling them.
I particularly enjoyed how this book raises a lot of questions, that can even be relevant today if we give them deeper thought. There is a lot of discussion mainly on power, who gets to have the power and what responsibilities does it bring with it. What I found as a great parallel to our society is how the few who have had power for generations seem to consider it their right, and even the idea of power being redistributed across ordinary people is too much of a disruption and threat to their way of life. I also liked that the author included conversations on gender equality as well as class discrimination, a particular point hitting me hard – we should all be respected and should have the right to fairness and justice solely because we are human beings, and it should not be limited to only those who have a higher station in life. And I have to say, I’m very impressed that the author has setup the premise for the Kurukshetra war as a revolution against the system which has wronged the ordinary people and against the rulers who would do anything to preserve the status quo.
While the writing may have faltered a bit, the characters are as impressive as ever. I thought the shades of grey of both Dharma and Syoddhan are shown brilliantly. Dharma is particularly very infuriating because he believes in his self righteousness and destiny too much, and never actually takes blame for any of the wrongs that he commits. Syoddhan on the other hand is not a bad person, but is much more susceptible to the advice and ambitions of those around him, succumbing to their ideas despite probably knowing he is doing wrong. I really loved how the author flipped the script on these two major characters, showing them as utterly flawed human beings and not as black and white as popular fiction depicts. Shikhandin again gets a lot of depth and I admired him a lot for his bravery and convictions, even though he suffers a lot of personal tragedy, is never lauded for his courageous actions and branded as a traitor. Sanjaya is one who’s character is completely different from canon but it was fascinating to see him depicted as such a master manipulator, and he goes through so many emotions throughout the story and I found it interesting to watch him change and adapt.
Obviously the larger part of the story still revolves around Govinda and Panchali and I just loved the exploration of their relationship even more. They are two halves of a whole, like Narayana and Sri themselves, and there were so few scenes of them together but I just cherished reading them. Panchali suffers a lot throughout this book and while she almost wants to give up, she ultimately doesn’t because she is strong and fierce and will never stop standing up for herself and demanding justice. Govinda on the other hand is devastated seeing what happens to her, and the way his despair and complete hopelessness is described brought tears to my eyes. This is not how Lord Krishna is usually depicted – a person who gives up everything dear to him for the dream of a prosperous empire and when it all collapses, the person who is supposed to be the hope of all people becomes hopeless himself – I’ve never seen him shown this way before and I thought it was a brave and well done attempt by the author. But towards the end, the story brings these two formidable characters together again and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
While I may not have felt as in awe of this book as it’s predecessor, the characters are what make this series so amazing and I tip my hat off to the author’s extensive imagination. As I’ve said before, if you are interested in reading reinterpretations of the Mahabharata where there are no divine elements and are open to view the characters in new light, then you should definitely give this trilogy a try. You might just end up finding a new fantasy series and author.