Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: Kaurava by Krishna Udayasankar

Title: Kaurava
Author: Krishna Udayasankar
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 384
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Indian mythology / Alternative history
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

About the book [from the Blurb]

Nothing left to fight for is nothing left to lose...

Emperor Dharma Yudhisthir of the Kauravas and Empress Panchali Draupadi rule over the unified realm of Aryavarta, an empire built for them by Govinda Shauri with the blessings of the Firstborn and by the might of those whom everyone believes long gone – the Firewrights.
Now the Firewrights rise from the ashes of the past, divided as before in purpose and allegiance, and no one, it seems, can stand in the way of the chaos about to be unleashed on the land – not the Firstborn, not the kings of Aryavarta, and not Govinda Shauri.

As sinister plans are put in play and treacherous alliances emerge, Aryavarta transforms into its own worst enemy. Dharma Yudhisthir gambles away his empire, the tormented empress is forced into a terrifying exile and the many nations of the realm begin to take up arms in a bid to fight, conquer and destroy each other.

His every dream shattered, Govinda is left a broken man. The only way he can protect Aryavarta and the woman in whose trusted hands he had left it is by playing a dangerous game. But can he bring himself to reveal the terrible secrets that the Vyasa has protected all his life – secrets that may well destroy the Firstborn, and the Firewrights with them? 

My thoughts:

I felt I was at a little disadvantage in reading this book before reading the Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda [Book 1] because sometimes Firewright - Firstborn thing would be baffling. Nevertheless, the good thing is that we all know the basic Mahabharata so over all I enjoyed this book.

The story in this book begins at the time when Dharma Yudhisthir is the emperor of Indraprastha while Govinda Shauri [Krishna] has been shunned from the empire. In the turn of events, Dharma, his brothers and Panchali are invited by Syoddhan [Duryodhan] to Hastinapur, where he [Dharma] gets into a game of dice. This legendary game of dice is the one in which he loses everything including himself, his brothers and Panchali. The book ends with the promise of impending war in the third part of the series, aptly titled ‘Kurukshetra’.

Mahabharata, as we have known it, has been a story of larger-than-life men and women, and difficult-to-believe sequences. Now the unique aspect of this book is that it explains everything logically, and does not demonize anybody unnecessarily. In author’s own words, through this series, she attempts to offer “a plausible narrative with reasonable internal logical consistency. Something that could well have been history, something that stands firm not just on faith but also on logic and science.” She has imagined several new angles to the original story without compromising on what is widely known. Her research work has been meticulous and extensive, and therefore what you get is a book [and probably the series] which is compelling and very contemporary in its appeal. The author has spent sufficient time in building up characters like Shikhandi, Ashvatthama or Sanjay.

There are so many characters that the relationship chart in ‘the Dynasties of Aryavarta’ is not just a luxury but a necessity. ‘The Cast of Characters’, also provided in the beginning, tells us about the main characters in this book. The author has intentionally used alternate names so that the characters don’t have to carry the unnecessary baggage of their fame / notoriety. So, Krishna is Govinda Shauri while Duryodhan is Syoddhan Kauravya. It took me a while to understand that Vasusena is Karna. A reader well-versed with Mahabharata will find several characters in a different light. For example, Syoddhan is a largely positive or at most a grey character here while Dharma is too smug.

I loved the cover page. It reminded me of Hachette India’s another fabulous series Empire of the Mughal. The narrative is largely fast-paced barring a few times when certain things have been described in too much detail. I also found use of swear words funny like “Who in the name of an elephant’s backside are you talking about?”

I will certainly recommend it to readers who love exploring different facets of the epic tale ‘Mahabharata’. But you must have an open mind towards the author’s imagination. Meanwhile, I eagerly look forward to the next book in the series ‘Kurukshetra’. 

If you are yet to read the series, I suggest you begin with the first one: 
The Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda (Book - 1)

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India 
Image source: Hachette India

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