Book Review: Kurukshetra by Krishna Udayasankar

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War is upon the realm, but is Aryavarta prepared for what will follow? As a bitter struggle begins to gain control of the divided empire that was once Aryavarta, Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa of the Firstborn and the Secret Keeper of the Firewrights can only watch as their own blood, their kin, savage and kill on the fields of Kurukshetra. Restraint and reason have deserted the rulers who once protected the land and they manipulate, scheme and kill with abandon – for victory is all that matters. At the heart of the storm stands Govinda Shauri, driven by fickle allies and failed kings, to the very brink of darkness. Reforging the forsaken realm in the fire of his apocalyptic wrath, he is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice of them all for the sake of one last hope: that humanity will rise, that there will be revolution.

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Finally the saga comes to an end. I have to preface this review by saying that I’m not as much in awe of this finale as I was of the first book, but it’s still a good ending. It’s just that maybe I was expecting too much from it, so it left me a bit dissatisfied.

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The writing of the author continues to be enchanting and thrilling, keeping me hooked to the story, never wanting to let go. Obviously as per the title of the finale, I was very interested to know how the author would describe the Kurukshetra war and while whatever was shown was magnificent and gritty and gory, I was also disappointed by what was left out. It’s not easy to condense eighteen days of this epic battle into one part of the book, but I didn’t particularly like that there was nothing of the first seven days at all. Some other important duels or deaths also happened off page, which was pretty shocking to me. In the original Mahabharata, the warriors on both sides fight with daivi astras, and while the point of this whole trilogy was to strip the epic of its divinity and attribute all the advancements to science and technology – I think it became a bit difficult to stick to that premise during the war sequences and some of the astras used felt unrealistic. And even though I can’t pinpoint exactly, there were some threads and plot points that were left open without any resolution and I didn’t expect that. But on the whole, I think the author did a formidable job bringing the war to life, and especially showing us the devastation and carnage it resulted in.

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As this is the book where we would get some version of the Bhagavad Gita, I was very eagerly waiting for those chapters. I will not say I understood everything, but it was short and very compelling to hear the words of Govinda to Partha. There are also many many discussions about destiny, reason and compassion, and how these three are just different ways in which the world can run. However, the number of times these discussions took place was a lot in this book, and I can’t say it was all easy to grasp. I still completely bought into Govinda’s complete belief in humanity and its incessant capacity to use knowledge to prosper; and also his surety that a system that fails to protect those its meant to, deserves to be destroyed. But what left me a bit disconcerted towards the end was that I couldn’t really fathom if Govinda’s dream became a reality. And maybe that’s the main source of dissatisfaction with this finale.

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The characters continue to be the strength of this series. It is so fascinating to see all these legendary people in a frail human light, with all their flaws. Especially Dharma, whose belief in destiny never wavered despite innumerable horrors happening around him, or the fact that it was the common people who were fighting for their rights on his side. At the end, I truly came to question if he deserved to be on the throne, even if it was as a representative of the people. Panchali and Govinda continue to be amazing and formidable beings they are, fighting the system and wanting a better future for humanity. Almost everything else played out as expected, but I can’t help but appreciate the author for giving Shikhandin such an important piece in this story. After everything that happened, I think he was the most admirable for me – the brave and consummate warrior who fought for the common people and what was right. Even though I was very upset during Abhimanyu’s horrifying death scene, it was actually the final scene between the closest friends Shikhandin and Asvatthama that brought tears to my eyes. I will always remember this trilogy for letting to me get to know these unlikely and forgotten heroes.

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Towards the end, I have to say that reading this trilogy has been an experience that I won’t soon forget. It has wowed me and impressed me and brought tears and joy and so much more. It is not without its flaws, but a Mahabharata reimagining is an ambitious task and I commend the author for attempting it and doing a good job. As I’ve been saying since I began this journey, if you are okay with a riveting reimagination of the epic which digresses a lot from the canon but still manages to capture its core essence, then you should definitely give this trilogy a try.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: Kurukshetra by Krishna Udayasankar

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  1. Oh wow Sahi, I LOVED your review. The book sounds fantastically complex (as it should be given what the theme is). Reading the paragraph on how the first seven days were not included and your knowledge on what actually happened then, I’m just sitting here with my jaw open. Girl you know your stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha.. I’ve read too many times and too many versions Ahana 😂😂😂 can’t really forget …
      And I loved how complex this series was… A very commendable attempt at reimagining Mahabharata 😍😍

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohh yes… it’s a trilogy, so you should definitely start with Govinda… I’ve heard that her recent urban fantasy novel Beast is also very good, but I couldn’t find an ebook here 😞😞

      Like

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