Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: The Palace of Assassins by Aditya Iyengar

Re-tellings of Indian myths are steadily gaining popularity in Indian writing in English. While there are plenty of people who object to the new writing on grounds of the storylines being implausible/devoid of accurate period detail/not fitting in with the accepted version(s) of the myths already in existence -- it is also true that these books are selling to another, avid market. There is an interest in grounding the myths in our times, or referencing parts of modern life or even just showing the ancient heroes as regular flawed modern heroes and anti-heroes.

The Palace of Assassins is Aditya Iyengar’s second novel based on the events of the Mahabharat. While his first book -- The Thirteenth Day -- examined the war through the eyes of Yudhishthira, this is the story of Ashwatthama the mighty soldier and son of Drona. Ashwatthama is the only survivor of the Kaurava leaders after the war, and his shameful killing of the Pandava children has condemned him to an eternal curse from Krishna. He is doomed to immortal life as a leper.

The novel starts from here, when Ashwatthama wakes up in the desert, cursed and in pain. It follows his rescue by the widow Kasturi and his attempts to come to terms with his fate. Surviving soldiers from the Kaurava army invite him to join their plot to revenge themselves on the Pandavas by massacring the Pandava lineage. The story moves fast and is fairly well plotted though some of the details can raise a reader's eyebrow. The occasional Americanism too, can jar slightly, though I admit this is a very subjective concern.

This is a quick holiday read. I read the book from start to finish over two aeroplane journeys in one day and it was gripping enough for me to go through security etc reading the book from my free hand. If you enjoy myths and fantasy (as I do), you might want to get this one.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review.