Gods, Kings and Slaves – The siege of Madurai – R Venketesh – Book Review


GodsKingsAndSlaves

Goodreads blurb: War is coming… An ancient kingdom will meet a devastating new enemy.

Peninsular India, fourteenth century; The Pandyan Empire is at its peak, its enemies subdued and its people at peace. Having left behind his step-brother Sundar in the race to the throne, crown prince Veera Pandyan is set to rule from Madurai, reputed to be the richest city in the subcontinent. But invisible fractures within the kingdom threaten to destroy it, and a new enemy approaches, swifter than anyone can imagine.

In Delhi, Sultan Alauddin Khilji’s trusted general, the eunuch Malik Kafur, has trained his eyes on the distant south, fabled for its riches. A slave captured by the Khiljis, Kafur is renowned for his ambition and cunning. None, not even the mighty Mongols, have defeated him – no empire can withstand the trail of destruction he leaves in his wake. And all he wants is to see Madurai on its knees, its wealth pillaged, its temples destroyed.

As an ancient city combusts in flames of treachery, bloodlust and revenge, brother will battle brother, ambition will triumph over love, slaves will rise to rule, cities will be razed to dust, and the victor will be immortalized in history…

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At the outset let me confess that I am a sucker for a good yarn, that too one involving kings, kingdoms, wars and descriptions of the days of yore. And as the book blurb above clearly indicates, this books has its fair share of all of my pet peeves and it was therefore a no-brainer that Gods, Kings and Slaves would be a book that I would immensely enjoy. Coupled with the fact that the author, Venketesh has spun quite a wonderful narrative deftly mixing very little fiction with a whole lot of facts, this book was quite simply unputdownable (for lack of a better word) for me.

While one thread of the narrative deals with Veera Pandyan, his birth as the ‘bastard’ crown prince of Madurai, his constant scuffles with his half-brother Sundara Pandyan (the legitimate prince), his love for Sunanda, his friendship with Akshayan and his ascent to the throne of Madurai, the other and equally interesting narrative deals with Malik Kafur, his birth as a Gujarati Baniya, his failed love, his castration and rebirth as a eunuch and how he manages to ascend the throne of the Delhi Sultanate by sheer dint of his determination and ambition.

What worked really well for me in this book was that both these narratives run in parallel and the author has put in a commendable effort to highlight not only the differences but also the similarities between the lives of his two protagonists. Starting from their birth, to their childhood, to their adolescence where they lose their innocence, to their ultimate journey to become the masters of their surroundings and circumstances are very well brought out in the book.

Along with chronicling the lives and journeys of these two, the author also chronicles the rise of their respective kingdoms, the Pandyan Empire in Madurai and the Khilji Sultanate in Delhi. How Veera and Malik use the opportunities that life presents to them, the mistakes they make, how they overcome the various obstacles that life throws their way and how they eventually live out their lives is beautifully brought out. In that sense, this book is as much about these two dynasties as it is about these two individuals. By strongly placing their narratives in the midst of all that is happening in these two kingdoms, the author ensures that we readers have a birds’ eye view of fourteenth century India and it is in these portions that the depth of his research clearly shines through.

And when the two narratives converge in the final portions of the book, it goes without saying that the action reaches a heightened sense of tension which leaves the reader turning the pages faster and faster to see what happens next. And that to me is the hallmark of a good book, one that ensures that the reader hesitates to put it down at all in the first place.

In my opinion, this book is a must-read for anybody who likes his stories to be peppered with kings, wars, history, and a healthy dose of human emotions as well. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and click on either of these links to purchase the book from Flipkart [Link] or Amazon [Link].

And before I forget, I must thank my dear friend and awesome writer Sid [www.iwrotethose.com] for having gifted this e-book to me on my birthday which I finally got around to reading only now.

Disclaimer: Although I will earn a miniscule amount of commission if you purchase the books by using the above links, rest assured, you will not end up paying a rupee more than you normally would otherwise.

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Name Gods, Kings and Slaves : The siege of Madurai
Author/s R Venketesh
Publisher Hachette India
Year published 2013
ISBN 13 9789350095867
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Flipkart
Amazon link Amazon

The Princess in Black – Upendra Dharmadhikari – Book Review


the-princess-in-black

Book blurb from indiabookstore : The Taj Mahal is going to be blown off and with it the visiting ex – President of USA. Or so has been impeccably planned by Major Salim Khan, an undercover ISI operative.

The only clue that the intelligence agencies have is the enigmatic Object No. 27, a rare Mughal relic that they don’t have much information about. History Professor Narayan Shastri, along with the best men from Indian Intelligence, try to unlock the code.

And then there is Saima, the mysterious beauty who found Object No 27 in the first place. She and Professor Shastri travel through the annals of a history rich with deceit-bloody battles of conquests, the satin veil of treachery and even the elegant, imperious walls built of red sandstone and white marble-to know more of the impending attack and each other more deeply.

Can they stop Major Khan from unleashing his act of terror on the marble monument of love? Precious hands of time are ticking away – Tick. Tick. Tick.
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As the book blurb clearly brings out this book belongs to what I call “The Da Vinci Code” genre. It therefore has all the necessary elements, one protagonist who has the brains and the necessary background required to solve the clues (Prof Narayan Shastri), one protagonist who is unwittingly pulled into the scheme of things (Saima), a couple of cops with troubled pasts, a disaster of large proportions (the impending bombing of the Taj Mahal), a narrative which keeps shuffling between the past and the present (the Mughal empire and some stories from Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb, Roshanara and Jahanara), a race against time.

Now go ahead and check all the boxes and fill in all the paragraphs with relevant information and lo and behold, you have a customized version of The Da Vinci Code of your own, obviously not as explosive and controversial, but a book from this genre nevertheless.

While the book itself is a competent debut from the authors, the fact that this book and its plot reminded me a little too much of Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s “The Taj Conspiracy” [Link to my review]which was published sometime in early 2013 was something that kept bugging me to no end. And the fact that I absolutely loved that book and its main protagonist was extremely memorable didn’t help this book at all.

Where this book suffers is with the characterization of the protagonists. While Prof Shastri strikes us as someone knowledgable and likeable, he simply doesn’t stay with our subconscious either while reading the book or after it, for that matter. While the authors have attempted to make him an Indian version of Robert Langdon in line with the genre, they haven’t succeeded.

And while the ending was something that I saw coming from a mile away, the book was interesting enough to keep me reading just to see how it would be presented. And just like a complaint that I have with more than a few books by Indian authors in recent days, this one too was just a little too filmy for me to digest. I guess the influence of masala and kitsch movies is showing on how our authors end their books as well. The ending and the fact that there were some logical inconsistencies in one part of the book was also something I found a little too jarring. The editors haven’t quite done a tight job with the manuscript and it shows, at least in one portion of the book.

Would I recommend this book to you? Sure, if you are looking for a quick read, nothing too serious and like reasonably well written predictable thrillers.

Would I strongly recommend it to you? Probably not.

PS: For some reason, this book is not added on Goodreads at all, and that simply doesn’t make any sense to me. I mean, who doesn’t add their books to Goodreads nowadays.

PPS: You can purchase the book from Flipkart by clicking on this link [Link]
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This review was commissioned by the author, however, all the views presented here are completely unbiased and my own.

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Name The Princess in Black : An unheard story of the Mughals
Author/s Upendra Dharmadhikari
Publisher Srishti Publishers
Year published 2014
ISBN 13 9789382665212
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Flipkart
Amazon link Amazon

Losing my Religion – Vishwas Mudagal – Book Review


Losingmyreligion

Goodreads blurb

Racy, unpredictable, romantic, and inspiring, this is a novel that is bound to get you addicted and stay with you forever.

When gamer and entrepreneur Rishi Rai sets out to revolutionize the gaming industry, something somewhere goes terribly wrong and, like dominoes, the blocks of his life fall down one after the other.

An unexpected meeting with Alex, an unpredictable, crazy American hippie, changes his life forever, as he decides to quit everything and join him on an unplanned, uncharted journey across India.

From getting irrepressibly high in the mysterious Malana Valley in the Himalayas to starting a shack on the bewitching Om Beach on the West Coast, they do it all. But their adrenaline-charged adventure takes a turn when Rishi meets Kyra, a beautiful and enigmatic gamer. As passions surge and sparks fly, Rishi gets drawn to Kyra . . . unaware of who she is and where she comes from.

What follows next is something nobody could have ever dreamed of . . .

Who is Kyra and why are the paparazzi after her? Can Rishi connect the dots in his life to protect the love of his life? While the world becomes a spectator, can he mastermind the fall of a ruthless giant to become a global icon or will he become the biggest loser?

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**Mild spoilers follow. Please leave if you want to read the book without knowing the spoilers**

As the second paragraph of the blurb states, the book begins with the protagonist Rishi Rai having pretty much lost everything in his life, his money, his girlfriend, his zeal to live and almost all of his energy and enthusiasm. A mindless drive down the Bangalore-Mysore highway ends up in a chance encounter with a junkie Alex which ends up being serendipitous for Rishi.

The two of them end up travelling to the Malana Valley in the Himalayas in search of the (in)famous Malana Cream (dope) and in the bargain literally bite off more than they can chew. A few pages and a few rolls down the hillside later, they find themselves setting up a shack on the Om Beach in Gokarna, Karnataka. The journey from Bangalore to the Malana Valley to Gokarna doesn’t quite really matter, because in true filmy style, what Rishi and Alex want, the universe conspires to make it happen for them.

Destiny once again puts Kyra in front of Rishi who promptly falls head over heels in love with her, and a couple of ‘almost there but not quite there’ moments and incidents, she also manages to fall in love with him. This begins the classic and clichéd ‘rich girl falls in love with poor guy’ kind of storyline in the book, and ends up with Rishi winning a Mortal Kombat gaming competition (of all the competitions in the world) to woo Kyra. And as is the norm Rishi ends up losing Kyra when she walks out of his life as well. It takes him a couple of drinks and smoking up on Malana Cream to get over it and he once again fortuitously ends up making big money and history out of a business opportunity at the Kumbh Mela, no less. As if this weren’t good enough, lo and behold, Kyra turns up in his life again. Turns out that she also missed him as much as he did.

Turns out Kyra is more than just another rich kid, she turns out to be ‘the rich kid’ and the story then takes us to the Big Apple where Kyra’s dad and his business rivalry with an obviously ‘bad business magnate’ takes center stage. Rishi inadvertently manages to get involved bang in the middle of this rivalry and the last part of the book deals with a reality show similar to Donald Trump’s ‘The Apprentice’.

While ‘Losing my religion’ by itself is not such a bad book, what probably disappointed me was the fact that it was built up and hyped up to be a very good book, very much more than what it turned out to be, at least for me personally.

Yes, while Rishi Rai’s ability to bounce back from all his failures without losing hope and ability to make the most of whatever life threw at him impressed me, the fact that he ended up using something like illegal dope to fund his new ventures didn’t quite work for me at all. Someone like Vishwas Mudagal having to choose an easy, filmy way out to fund his protagonist’s business ventures didn’t strike me as being realistic at all.

And the entire romantic angle seemed so contrived, what with Kyra having to be an American. It almost felt forced to enable the story to move to the US of A at the very end and served as a reason for the entire commercial potboiler that the book becomes with the reality show aspect of it.

At the end of the book, it felt like I had watched a couple of movies in which the main characters were the same, but told two or three different stories. I personally couldn’t find one single thread which strongly bound the book together. Yes, the book sells hope to young India, but am not sure it sells it in the ‘right way’, if there is one. It teaches young Indians not to lose heart when life hits them hard, but telling them to try to sell dope to start a business venture doesn’t make too much sense.

But then, maybe I am reading too much into what probably was intended as a ‘fun read’ and nothing more.

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Read this kinder review of the book here by a good friend Sakshi Nanda if not for anything else, for the sheer penchant and style with which she has reviewed the book. Whatever Sakshi does, she does with style, no two ways about that.

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Name Losing my religion
Author/s Vishwas Mudagal
Publisher Fingerprint Publishing
Year published 2014
ISBN 13 9788172344931
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Flipkart
Amazon link Amazon

Sorting out Sid – Yashodhara Lal – Book Review


SortingOutSid

Goodreads blurb: Meet Sid, a master at the art of denial, in this hilarious, insightful tale of modern-day living and relationships.

Siddharth Agarwal a.k.a. Sid has it all – a fifteen-year-long marriage, a bunch of devoted friends, and the chance to be the company’s youngest-ever VP, all at the age of thirty-six.

But, behind the scenes, his life is slowly falling apart, what with his marriage on the rocks, parents who treat him like a delinquent child, and overly-interfering, backstabbing friends. And that’s not even counting the manipulative HR vixen and the obnoxious boss he must tackle in office.

So, when lovely, spunky single mom Neha materializes in his life, she brings into it a ray of hope. But will she cause the brewing storm to finally erupt?

Who said it would be easy sorting out Sid?

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Now with a blurb that reads like it does above and a cover which has a man sprawled with a beer mug in his hand, this book was made quite irresistible to pick up and actually start reading. Added to this was the good buzz that various previewers and reviewers gave this book. So I was quite excited when I got a review copy of this book.

Sid, the main protagonist will surely remind all working men in the mid thirties of themselves. Well, if not all aspects of him, there are some characteristics that he exhibits which will surely help male readers relate to him on more levels than one. Stuck in a job where he is actually doing quite well but is not quite interested in, in a marriage which is bursting at the seams due to the ‘married for a decade but no children’ conundrum, Sid is one happy-go-lucky character and is pretty much the ‘life of the party’. Or so it seems … scratch the surface a little and the chinks in his armor are visible.

Given that he fell in love with Mandira, his wife and then married her, he is somewhat at a loss to understand what it is that exactly is going wrong with his marriage. Added to this is the fact that while his job pays him well and he is a go-getter at the workplace, he absolutely detests his job and that he has to ‘kiss so much ass’ all the time to get rewarded at work. Lying squarely between his job and his marriage is his friend circle comprising of his ‘best friend forever’ Aditi, her husband Krish and the frequent parties that he regularly attends. At the beginning of the book, his only solace seems to be Brownie, his bean bag at home and the beer that he keeps swigging almost all his time at home.

A chance encounter with Neha, Aditi’s friend manages to turn Sid’s life on its head and subsequent events, both domestic and professional take us readers on a roller-coaster of a journey through the next few months in his life. From being warned of imminent disaster to getting promoted, the plot takes us on various ups and downs in the ever-wavering graph that Sid’s story is.

How it all ends up forms the crux of the story and revealing anything more would amount to giving away too much of the plot in this review.

What endeared me the most about this book was the fact that the author never gets too preachy about the situation that Sid finds himself in. She never takes sides with any of her characters and seems to be very balanced in her approach to all of them equally well. And any author that resists the temptation of playing ‘agony aunt’ and doling out ‘free advice’ to readers in my books is a good one, especially when the situations in the plot lend themselves to easy advice as well.

And another thing which made this book special to me was the fact that none of the characters’ reactions to any of the situations seemed contrived. Almost all the time, all the characters behaved in a manner which was consistent to how normal readers like you and me would react to the situations. The fact that the author didn’t push the ‘artistic license’ or ‘creative license’ boundary too much meant that the book stayed grounded in reality for most part, and that made for a good, relatable read.

One small negative which I would like to highlight about the book, and this is something that other reviewers also mentioned was the length of the book itself. It could probably have been made a little crisper, some tighter editing would have helped in this regard. But having said that, it does not get too long, or too drab at any point in time and is a fairly breezy read.

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Name Sorting out Sid
Author/s Yashodhara Lal
Publisher Harper Collins India
Year published 2014
ISBN 13 9789350296912
Goodreads link Link
Flipkart link Link
Amazon link Link