Abhaya is another book to make its way into the ever popular Indian Mythology scene. It follows a girl, Abhaya, who is the princess of a smaller kingdom. She is assertive and stubborn with her principles in place, not to mention she is a fun character to read about. Naturally a girl who is assertive and strong will rub some people the wrong way and she does rub one someone the wrong way and relationships that were already fraying completely unravel.
I shall not pretend to be a mythology expert; in fact I shall not even say I know much about mythology except that which my grandparents told me. So it was a little hard for me to associate this with any particular legend but based on the blurb it seems to be about Narakasura. It is about the overthrowing of a cult with the help of Lord Krishna and saving the lives of the women who have been trapped by the leader.
I don’t wish to give away the plot because you know me and you know that I like going in with little knowledge so I’ll just tell you how it starts. We open the book to a scene where Dhatri, a widowed woman, is being chased by a mob for attempting to run away with her lover. I suppose they are upset that she’s giving up her morals and thereby making her family lose face and they want to kill both of them. Bauma, a lord following the Shaktha religion/practice, happens to be riding by in his chariot and he makes an attempt to rescue the two. Alas, the man slips and falls back and only Dhatri is saved. At first she curses everyone for her ill fate, both the men she loved(?) have succumbed to Yama’s clutches but Bauma convinces her that she has a higher purpose and soon she settles into the Shaktha practice.
In a different kingdom a young girl is born to an ailing queen and on the same night a domestically abused woman leaves her son with her friend, the king, aad escapes her husband’s clutches to join another Shakta order. The king adopts this boy as his own and christens him Vikram. They are raised as siblings and form an unbreakable bond with each other. Vikram starts teaching Abhaya sword fighting and she soon becomes well trained. One day Vikram wants to meet his birth mother and they send him on his way with blessings but he couldn’t have chosen a worse time to leave. I shall leave it at that.
The writing is easy and though it takes a few pages to get into the story, which book doesn’t have that issue. Once you get into it, you notice that it’s an easy read with an easy pace. While it is action filled you’re never flipping the pages so fast that they’re in danger of tearing. It is engrossing enough for you to be into it and to keep reading.
One serious problem I had with the book was the ending. I felt like it ended a good ten pages before it actually ended and the ten pages felt messy. What could have been a neat and clean finish felt unnecessarily dragged out and it took away from my final feelings for the book. Another thing was the usage of words like “Vatse” and “Janaka”. It would have been easier to exclude them and use regular words like “my child” or “father” They felt jarring and snapped me out of the story each time I came across them.
Don’t let these two deter you from reading the story. It is a brilliant retelling with amazing plot points and the best part is that it has amazing heroines who don’t bow down to patriarchy. Also, what Saiswaroopa has very cleverly done is that she’s taken stories with magical and unbelievable elements and turned it into a historical novel. While it does have certain mythological elements to it, this seems to be a rather realistic portrayal of a myth that you may be familiar with. You don’t get annoyed because the usually unbelievable miracles don’t occur.
Now don’t get me wrong, miracles work when done the right way, but most debut authors don’t do that. So I’m glad she didn’t resort to taking the easy way out and instead made her characters toil and work hard to achieve their goals.
The pacing was also never off. There were no long winded dialogues and there was no boring description of the topography. She’s a good enough author to make you picture the lay of the land without having to describe everything in a textbook manner. I enjoyed, particularly, the relationship in Abhaya’s family and the ones she shares with her friends. You feel like these people are your friends themselves and tend to smile fondly whenever they came up. While I wish some friendships had been explored more, I’m sure she had a reason for excluding them.
All in all a 3.5 star read. I can’t wait to see what Saiswaroopa Iyer comes up with next.
*I received a copy in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed are my own.