Yama’s Lieutenant – Anuja Chandramouli – Book Review


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Goodreads blurb: The inhabitants of the thousand hells of Yama have broken free from their prison and vowed to wreak havoc on the heavens, the earth and hell. With the fiendish Hatakas and Narakamayas teamed up with Naganara, a terrifying necromancer hungry for power, the universe is headed for war and destruction unless one human has something to do with it.

Agni Prakash, a debonair young man whose world has been turned upside down by the death of his twin sister, Varu, has been enlisted to stop these forces and be Yama s very own lieutenant. As the mythical world clashes with his own, Agni discovers a manuscript left behind by his sister. Hauntingly, it draws parallels to the treacherous path upon which he has been thrust. Equipped with an acerbic wit and winning charm, Agni undertakes a battle, where the odds seem tipped wildly against him, and finds unlikely companions along the way.

Will he be able to uncover the secret behind his sister’s writings? And more importantly, will he be able to avert the destruction that seems imminent?

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Most regular readers of my blog would know that I am a huge fan of mythology and Anuja Chandramouli remains one of my favorite authors in this particular genre. You can read my reviews of her books Kamadeva: The God of Desire here [Link to review] and Shakti: The Divine Feminine [Link to review] to know how much I like her style of writing and way of interpreting mythological tales with a modern and contemporary point of view. It therefore was a no-brainer that I would then pick up her latest mytho-fiction book Yama’s Lieutenant and read and review the same on this blog.

This book marks a distinct departure from the other books she has penned in terms of the genre itself. While all her earlier books were her take on tales from Indian mythology and their characters, this one falls squarely in the fiction genre, or the mytho-fiction genre as I’d like to call it, given that it straddles mythological themes with good old fashioned fantasy fiction. As the blurb states Agni Prakash is the only person who can prevent the imminent destruction of the world as we know it today. An unwitting recruit to be ‘Yama’s lieutenant’, Agni was looking for a way where he could productively channelize his anger against evil and thus overcome the tragic loss of his twin sister Varu, and this mission of his proves to be just what the doctor ordered for his anger management issues.

What starts off as a personal crusade for Agni soon ends up being a relatively more critical mission on the basis of which the fate of the entire world would rest upon. Whether Agni is able to deliver on the mission, does he manage to prevent large scale destruction, will he be able to hold the forces of evil at bay form the crux of the narrative.

What I really liked about the book was the fact that the character of Agni was fleshed out very well. His back story, his motivations, the justification for his anger and subsequent actions, all of these have been highlighted very well by the author in the course of his adventures. Why he does what he does, and how he does them, are quite well justified with nary a loose end in this aspect.

Another part of the narrative I quite liked was the use of a parallel manuscript penned by Agni’s twin Varu to keep the action moving forward. While I did find it somewhat irritating at times, the main reason behind its use comes to the fore only during the last few pages of the book. In fact its usage to delivery the final twist in the tale is something that I didn’t quite see coming despite the large red herring right at the beginning of the story.

What however was a little bit of a dampener for me was the excessive usage of promiscuity in some parts of the book. Some unnecessary references to bodily parts and their daily functions could easily have been avoided by the author and they don’t add anything either to the narrative or to character development. The book would have been no less nice for their exclusion. Apart from this minor irritant, the book itself was quite lively and a relatively fast read as well.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was given to me by the author in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

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Stolen Hope – Shubha Vilas – Book Review


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Goodreads blurb: In the evil labyrinths of Dandakaranya forest, human values are put to test. Rama’s righteousness, Lakshmana’s loyalty and Sita’s endurance reflect our own sense of values and judgment in difficult times. The story unfolds the facets of human life – the conflict and the trickery, the praise and the slander and, above all, the hope and the despair in the eventful forest life of the Exiled Royals.

Stolen Hope is about extreme deception and extreme love. It is about arrogant power and deep devotion. With every twist and turn, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana find themselves robbed of whatever and whoever they value most.

Exploring the dynamics of human relations – between father and son, husband and wife, teacher and disciple – and the complex game of power and greed, Stolen Hope mirrors our own dilemmas in the modern world and teaches us how we must overcome them.

Seek courage when everything, including hope, is stolen.

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This book picks up from when the trio of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita begin settling down in the Dandakaranya forest. The author narrates the story of how this forest got around to being named so and the events that led to their presence there. As was the case with the earlier two books, this one also takes small detours into stories of related characters as well as some of the places that the trio visit on their journeys during their exile, and the best part about these stories is that they only end up adding that much more meat and heft to the timeless epic that the Ramayana is.

All the earlier versions of this epic I had read were abridged versions and more or less stuck to the main story, ie, the narrative arc of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, and that probably is the reason that I am thoroughly enjoying this particular retelling so much more. Each and every one of the smaller ‘side’ stories which form part of this retelling are making my overall experience of reading the entire series more than quite a bit. And coupled with my recent penchant and interest in Indian mythology I have to admit that I haven’t quite enjoyed a series of books as much as I am loving the entire The Game of Life series by Shubha Vilas.

In this book readers get a glimpse into Rama’s prowess with weapons and his smarts as a single warrior against thousands of rakshasas from Dushana and Khara’s army. And the entire episode of Sita being kidnapped by Ravana due to the chain of events set in motion by Surpanakha are also explained in great detail. We also get to see the rare occasion where Rama loses his composure and Lakshmana has to step in to cool him down and get his elder brother’s distressed mind working logically and objectively again. This episode proves to be quite pivotal in determining the true inner strength of Lakshmana and him taking center stage for a brief period of time.

In a nutshell, a worthy continuation of what promises to be an engaging series of books by Shubha Vilas.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author in return for an unbiased and honest review of the same.

Shattered Dreams – Shubha Vilas – Book Review


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Goodreads blurb: Shattered Dreams is the sequel to the national bestseller, Rise of the Sun Prince, in the new spiritual and motivational series Ramayana – The Game of Life. Twelve joyful years have passed in Ayodhya since the wedding of Rama and Sita at the end of Book 1.

Now, in Shattered Dreams, Shubha Vilas narrates the riveting drama of Rama’s exile. Through tales of Rama’s unwavering and enigmatic persona, the book teaches us how to handle reversals positively; through Bharata’s actions, it teaches us to handle temptation; and through Sita’s courage, to explore beyond our comfort zone. This complicated family drama provides deep insights on how human relationships work and how they fail.

With Valmiki’s Ramayana as its guiding light, Shattered Dreams deftly entwines poetic beauty from the Kamba Ramayana and Ramacharitramanas, as well as folk philosophy from the Loka Pramana tales, to demonstrate how the ancient epic holds immediate relevance to modern life. Experience the ancient saga of the Ramayana like never before.

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The second book in the Ramayana series by Shubha Vilas Shattered Dreams is decidedly more grim and serious compared to the first one. The first book Rise of the Sun Prince [Link to review] dealt with Rama’s birth and ended with him getting married to Sita and represented the more joyful days of Rama as a teenager and youngster, this book deals with the more serious events in Rama’s life which marks the true beginning of his journeys.

Starting with Dasaratha’s premonitions and fears surrounding Rama’s coronation as the King of Ayodhya, the book deals with the events surrounding the same and how Manthara, Queen Kaikeyi’s handmaiden poisons her mind and extracts two long forgotten promises from the King. The sequence of events leading to Rama being exiled and Dasaratha dying due to the grief of being separated from his favorite son are quite poignantly narrated and even a fairly unemotional person like me felt for the old King and the citizens of Ayodhya when Rama left the kingdom. Such is the wonderful hold that the narrator has over the story and the flow of his words on the pages.

What still surprises me about this series is the fact that despite having read and re-read the story itself so many times over the course of more than few years, each re-reading brings to the fore something new and something unique with it. Maybe it’s just the wisdom that age brings with it, or maybe there’s something more to the Indian mythological epics that I give credit for. In a nutshell, I am thoroughly enjoying this series, all the more because, it has no fictional embellishments to it and sticks mostly to the Valmiki version with bits and pieces from the Kamba Ramayanam and Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas thrown in here and there.

What made this book more enjoyable were the small nuggets of stories of Anasuya which form the last chapter of the book. Gives me material to put up a few mythological posts on my blog after quite a longish gap.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link]

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

Rise of the Sun Prince – Shubha Vilas – Book Review


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Goodreads blurb: Ramayana: The Game of Life (Book 1), one of the world’s great literary masterpieces, skillfully retold for modern audiences. Epics like the Ramayana have been recounted infinite times. Is there a need for another chronicle in the presence of so many? How is this one different? And is it relevant to our ever-changing modern lives?

Yes, there is a need, yes this is different and yes, it is relevant. This new series of books, each following one khand of the Ramayana, decodes the eternal wisdom of that poetic scripture through gripping narrative and thought-provoking instruction. In the time-honored custom of spreading wisdom through tales, every fascinating story in the epic is retold here and every character unfolded to captivate your heart and open your mind to life’s deepest questions.

The narrative closely follows Valmiki’s Ramayana, gently weaving in folk tales as well as the beautiful analogies of the Kamba Ramayana. The first of this six-volume series, Rise of the Sun Prince, takes you through the divine story of Lord Rama from His birth up to His marriage. Through these pages are revealed the tales of Dasaratha’s leadership, Vishwamitra’s quest for power and the intriguing story of a little-known stone maiden. Ramayana: The Game of Life has all of this and much more – food for contemporary thought drawn from an enduring masterpiece.

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Regular readers of my blog might wonder how many more times am I going to read and write about mythology, but the honest reality of the situation is this; the more I read stories from Indian mythology, the more fascinated I am by them. And what better place to begin reading yet another mythological series than with The Ramayana. This time around I picked up Rise of the Sun Prince by Shubha Vilas, the first of his six book series titled Ramayana – The Game of Life.

Although I have to say that Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita: An illustrated retelling of the Ramayana blew me away with the sheer breadth of the research that he had done to write the same in terms of actually having read more than a few regional versions of the epic and authored that book, this one, Shubha Vilas’ Rise of the Sun Prince blew me away with the sheer depth of the research that he has done into Valmiki Ramayana and the Kamba Ramayanam (Tamizh retelling of the epic). While the story closely follows that of the Valmiki Ramayana, the author inserts interesting little nuggets from the Kamba Ramayanam every so often which only add to the overall experience of the book itself.

Another interesting aspect about this book is the fact that the author chooses to highlight the contributions of Sage Vishwamitra to the overall epic itself. Beginning with how he approaches Dasaratha to ask for Rama’s help in slaying the demons Tataka, Maricha and Subahu to how he manages to deftly manipulate the situation to ensure that Rama ends up marrying Sita, the story arc of this sage in this book is quite interesting. And what’s even more delightful is the fact that this book pretty much chronicles the whole story of Vishwamitra himself in terms of how he becomes a brahmarishi from being a king himself. His journey towards self-realization, towards humility, towards the ultimate form of devotion to the Supreme Lord himself is eye-opening in more than one way. I personally had never seen or heard the story of Vishwamitra told this way and I found this portion of the book more than just a little interesting myself.

What was also an interesting part of the book were the various footnotes appended to almost every page. In these, the author conveys his personal learnings from each of the small incidents in that page or goes on to elucidate the broader meanings and interpretations of the happenings in that page. These add more than just a little value to the overall reading experience.

Click here to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link] and experience what I personally found to be an extremely authentic, from-the-heart retelling of this timeless epic mythological tale.

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.

Loyalty Net – Sharath Komarraju – Book Review


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Goodreads blurb: Mumbai. 2150 AD. India is the world’s biggest economic powerhouse, a global supplier of robots. At the seat of all development in the country is the IIR, the Indian Institute of Robotics. Its word is gospel. Its status is unmatched.

Then Anil Srinivasan, one of the Institute’s premier roboticists, gets murdered at a public function. Poisoned by his own robot.

The case falls into the lap of Dhaval Malik at the CBI. With his dismal case record, not solving this will mean demotion, even suspension. But the people in power counter him at every step. As the investigation leads him deeper and deeper into the maze-like edifice on which the country is built, Dhaval finds himself cornered. Desperate. Helpless.

Aid arrives, though, from an unlikely source: the robots themselves.

The journey takes Dhaval into the dark locked rooms of the IIR, where old, musty secrets linger. It takes him into the robot’s mind, and it is here that he must find his answers. In silicon perceptrons. In flashes of electric signals that create emotion and thought in the machines. In the holes of the Loyalty Net, a neural network that prevents a robot from ever hurting a human being. In his grandfather’s memory. In himself.

Science fiction and mystery combine seamlessly in this futuristic novel. Read it today.

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The first thing that strikes you about Sharath Komarraju’s Loyalty Net is how he has managed to take on Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (Wiki link to article), make it his own and weaves what essentially is a good old murder mystery around it. Being part of Sharath’s mailing list I know that he is a fan of Asimov and his writing and therefore it comes as no surprise that he does complete justice to this fundamental tenet of Asimov’s stories involving robots and robotics in general. And given that this book was Sharath’s debut I have to admit that I was quite blown away by the sheer professionalism with which this book has been written with. Not at any point in time does the book give away the fact that it was at its heart an ‘amateurish’ attempt as Sharath himself has stated more than quite a few times in the past.

Am not devoting this review to the plot itself as I am sure there will be more than enough reviews about the same, but am going to dwell on the overarching narrative arc and the broader issues that Loyalty Net deals with. Set in a utopian (or was it dystopian) future where India is ‘the superpower’ of the world courtesy its supremacy in the field of robotics and related technologies, the author questions the very basis on which this supremacy has been built on, the strictly guarded secrecy around the robotic brain, the neural networks which are built around the robotic brain and how the country carefully guards its ‘knowledge hoard’ in this regard.

Sharath raises important fundamental questions about how ethical India is when it comes to hoarding all robotic related knowledge with itself, and also wonders as to what would happen if these secrets somehow got out. Keeping the murder of an eminent roboticist as the backdrop against which the rest of the events pan out, he makes some extremely pertinent points about how unwise it is for India, or for that matter, any country to keep information which could prove beneficial to the entire world, under wraps. While it makes immense economic sense to do so the fact that it would be extremely unethical and fairly harmful to humans as a species in the long run is something that he subtly tries to bring out as the story unfolds.

On more than one occasion in this book, Sharath makes us readers wonder about this situation and question ourselves about the merits and demerits of such knowledge hoarding. And to his credit he doesn’t patronize us readers with an answer to these questions as they are inherently personal and each reader is surely bound to have his or her own correct answers to them. And that is where the author scores more than a few brownie points.

If you are a fan of science fiction, Sharath Komarraju or well written books in general, then you surely have to pick up this book and immediately read it.

Click here to purchase the book from Amazon [Link].

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by the author in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.