by Rahul Srivastava
The equel to India’s first science fiction and fantasy thriller, The Simoqin Prophecies, works remarkably well. Here is Samit Basu again, wildly imaginative and totally in control. This time he frequently allows his cinematic eye to take centre-stage, creating some mesmerising scenes that punctuate the racy narrative – rich descriptions of forested landscapes, ethereal journeys in the sky and a breathtaking climax in the form of a deadly duel in a ruined temple that is actually a portal to another world.
The delicate coalition between Vamans and Humans in threatened by the dramatic, Matrix-inspired entry of three Ravians, representatives of a superior, purity-obsessed race with a dark plan for dominating the entire galaxy. Kirin, Asvin and Maya, all vulnerable, cantankerous heroes of sorts, try to sabotage this plan even as they remain unaware of its dangerous details.
There are twists and turns fuelled by unexpected bouts of self-doubt and astonishing betrayals. A host of characters and creatures inhabit this magical world but the star is undoubtedly the couplet-spouting, rhyme-obsessed, half-man, half-lion Manticore himself.
In spite of all its charmingly reckless and seriousness-denying humour, this is also a novel guided by a sharp and informed vision of history. Basu writes as much with an eye on thrills as with an awareness of the many dimensions of his characters. He resolutely avoids good versus evil binaries that frequently cripple narratives of this genre.
In a referential nod to literary traditions that go beyond Terry Pratchett, the characters thankfully remain human, even when they are asuras, celestial beings, animals or the great gods themselves. In a familiar mythological twist, he frames the story with a meta-narrative, where these great gods are the real power-mongers who control every breath of the tragic heroes who in turn are of course, just pawns in the celestial “GamwWorld”.
…from TimeOut Mumbai, Jan 13-26, 2006. pg. 47