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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Book Review : 'Gods, Kings and Slaves - The Siege of Madurai' by R Venketesh

Finally, done with ‘Gods, Kings and Slaves: The Siege of Madurai’ by R Venketesh. This is a historical fiction. 

It has a rather confusing cover to start off. There is a sword, a scene of battle and a couple of fish, around the name of the book. The back cover is pretty good; it has a view of the city, with its palace and temples and a few of the populace. I have a reason for explaining the cover in detail, which I will reveal later.

The book begins with India in the 14th century. And we find ourselves in the king’s palace, wherein there is the Pandyan crown prince, Kulashekaran, his favourite concubine Tara, the son of this coupling, Veera and finally, Kulashekaran’s marriage to a Chola princess. 

Halfway through the prologue, we find ourselves in Gujarat, where we meet the second lead, a toddler, Chand Ram. He is told that he was destined to have a rather strange life. He would live a sorrowful life, but he could even become a ruler. 

The story runs into the younger life of Veera, his life at the palace, his disagreements with his step-brother Sundar, and his stint at the training school. The fitness regime for the boys at the ‘gurukulam’, and also the instruction of how and what a bow and arrow can do are brilliantly written about. South India and its history are also vividly described.

The chapter then moves northwards, towards Gujarat, where Chand Ram is now a young man, selling bangles to the inmates of the harem of Rana Rajasekar, the local ruler. He falls in love with Chaula, a pretty girl at the harem. The two of them run away before being caught and punished, by the Rana. The punishment was the castration of Ram, after which he is sold at the slave market. Both scenes are intense and feel terrible, as should be.

Meanwhile, in the Pandyan kingdom, we have the love story of Veera and Sunanda. How they meet again, how their lives are intertwined, and how Veera is packed away to Lanka as punishment form this part of the story.  In the north, the slave, Ram is asked to convert to a Muslim, by his Arab master. He does so, and he becomes an integral part of his master’s business.

How Veera wins all the battle at Lanka, and returns to see his lover married off to his brother, and how he himself is married to a simple village girl, Radhika, all form this part.

From the Arab master, Ram who is now known as Malik, is now moved to the Sultan’s palace. Here he gains a hold of the harem, before slowly moving towards the Sultan. The south which was a rich place till now, is suddenly shaken by the Sultanate.  How the lives of Veera and Malik are blended form the rest of the story.

The north-south divide is explicitly described. The story could have done with a cast of characters, as well. The first part had me devouring the book, but the second part is lacking. The battle description, the lives of the harem and the sultanate, the personal lives of the Pandyan kings and queens are all written in a confused fashion. It is a book with lots of potential, but lacking towards the end.

I felt that there was a little too much to read and the second half of the book could have been a second book, all together. But overall, the book started off brilliantly, but lost its way towards the end. The cover is confusing, but so is the book.

Author: R Venketesh
Genre: Historical Fiction
Cover: Saurabh Deb
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN : 978-93-5009-586-7
Price: Rs 395
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