Stolen Hope – Shubha Vilas – Book Review


StolenHope

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.

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Shattered Dreams – Shubha Vilas – Book Review


ShatteredDreams

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


RiseOfTheSunPrince

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


LoyaltyNet

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.

Fluence – Stephen Oram – Book Review


Fluence

Goodreads blurb: It’s the week before the annual Pay Day when strata positions are decided by the controlling corporations. The social media feed is frenetic with people trying to boost their influence rating while those above the strata and those who’ve opted out pursue their own manipulative goals.

Amber is ambitious. Martin is burnt out by years of struggling. She cheats to get what she wants while he barely clings on to what he has.

Set in a speculative near-future London, Fluence is a satirical story of aspiration and desperation and of power seen and unseen. It’s a story of control and consequence. It’s the story of the extremes to which Amber and Martin are prepared to go in these last ten thousand minutes before Pay Day.

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This was one of those books that I picked up to read and review on an impulse without knowing anything about either the genre, the author or the narrative. And to be brutally fair to the author and his efforts, it was quite a good attempt at a readable book in the science fiction genre.

As can be gleaned from the blurb, the action in this book takes place in a near-future dystopian London, where the ‘big corporations’ divide people into various ‘social strata’ based on their ‘influence’ rating among their peers. And as if things couldn’t get crazy enough with this premise, there are the ‘outliers’ who have voluntarily opted out of the ‘strata system’ and then there are the ‘reds’, the people at the very top of the system who manipulate the entire system for their own gains.

Set in the middle of this melee are the stories of Amber Walgace and Martin Brown, two people who work for the same department in the Bureaucracy, and both of whom are quite desperate to make it to the next strata. They only have one week to go before the Annual Pay Day when everybody’s strata positions are re-calibrated based on their fluence. And this book deals with incidents in their lives during the course of this one week.

While Amber is presented as this ‘go-getter’ who would do anything and even cut corners to make it to the next level, Martin seems to be suffering from an overdose of empathy for his fellow human beings and almost all his actions end up damaging his fluence and thereby ruining his chances of moving up the strata. But then Amber has her well laid out plans sabotaged by a mysterious blackmailer and she faces her fair share of hurdles in her last week before Pay Day.

Do Amber and Martin make it to the next level, are they willing to make the necessary sacrifices, are there bigger forces at work moving behind the scenes to control the movements across the various strata…..these are some of the questions that the narrative answers.

What I liked about this book was it pretty much holds up a mirror to the new gen fad of youngsters wanting more and more ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ of their social networking statuses. In fact I would go far enough to say that this book reads more like a science fiction horror story of social networking addiction gone horribly wrong. How big corporations piggy back on social media addiction and nymphomaniac tendencies of youngsters nowadays, how they manage to manipulate our minds into believing in the social strata, how they manage to ultimately control our entire lives forms a major part of the overarching theme that is dealt with in the book.

What however put me off about the book was its length. After setting up the initial premise, the characters and the arc, the author could have opted for a tauter, tighter narrative and infused the proceedings with a lot more urgency than he did. And the net result is that the book ended up being a little draggy and laggy in parts which somewhat spoilt the whole experience for me.

Read this book if you are looking to read something radically different from what you have in the science fiction genre.

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

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A review copy of this book was provided to me by b00kr3vi3ws in return for an honest and unbiased review of the same.