Daily Archives: September 28, 2017

Upcountry Tales: Once Upon a Time in the Heart of India by Mark Tully

Upcountry Tales Title: Upcountry Tales: Once Upon a Time in the Heart of India
Author: Mark Tully
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386582690
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

I think writing short stories is the most difficult thing to do. To encapsulate everything, you have to say in a short story isn’t easy. And maybe that’s the reason I admire people who write short stories. Mark Tully returns to the terrain of fiction after a while with his short story collection “Upcountry Tales: Once Upon a Time in the Heart of India”. His last work of fiction, “The Heart of India” was published in 1995 and the only one at that So he has written fiction after 22 years and let me tell you, it doesn’t seem that way at all.

The stories in this collection are set in villages of eastern Uttar Pradesh during the second half of the 1980s (so you will not find technology intruding in any of them and thank God for that). These stories are of common people (a teacher in The Reluctant Lover)– some you might encounter but not give a second glance or time of day. At the same time, these very people come alive in Mr. Tully’s stories – they aren’t in the background – they come to the fore and that’s what I loved about these stories.

There are rebels, pragmatists, bumblers, quiet heroes as well – all finding a way to deal with social hierarchies and the government forces around them. You relate to so much as you read. Mark Tully’s India isn’t quite what you or I imagine to be – maybe because we don’t know the real India so to say, so sometimes the terrain is rather surprising (or should I say shocking) but having said that, you get used to its flora and fauna and above all, its people.

The book is of stories that are serious, that are light-hearted and are also tragic. You meet heroes and heroines who have battled in their ways and manner against corruption and red-tapeism. Mark Tully does a wonderful job of painting these stories against a canvas of a wide-range of topics – from class to race differences to the rules of a patriarchal society (The Ploughman’s Lament) and that to me was something else while reading this book. He also goes on to admit in the introduction that only two of the stories are based on real characters (which had to happen given his knowledge and experience on a first-hand basis with India), while the rest are fictional.

“Upcountry Tales” is a book full of warmth and of an India that we need to know. Time doesn’t matter then – whether the stories are set in the 80s or not (that’s barely anything to go by in my opinion), what matters is the people – people who when push comes to shove, will make their presence felt.

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: TOR Books
ISBN: 978-0765376466
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have always been wary of reading fantasy and high-fantasy at that. In my mind, there are so many plots and sub-plots to follow that I lose track of all of them and then the names in these books – almost difficult to remember and recall when needed. I would always have to go back and see where did I encounter a particular character and what happened to them. However, that doesn’t deter me to read fantasy novels, that I want to or the ones I have loved before of a certain author. It takes me time to finish it, or the series but I do get around anyhow. This time though, “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab – the first book in the Shades of Magic trilogy surprised me. I started and finished it in almost a span of three days and that’s saying lot, giving I was reading multiple books at the same time.

“A Darker Shade of Magic” is about multiple Londons and magic. These are parallel Londons – The Grey, The Red, The White and once upon a time, there was The Black London as well. And at the center of all of this is Kell – one of the last Antari – magicians with a rare ability to travel between these Londons. Before I say anything further about the book, let me say something about the author and her writing style. Schwab doesn’t spoon-feed the plot to you. She doesn’t explain anything right at the beginning. You are not served, so to say. You need to figure things as a reader. Now back to the book: Kell is not only a messenger of Red London (belonging to the Royal Family) but he is also a collector of trinkets and often risks bending some rules to collect these. We don’t know much about Kell till of course the plot unfurls and then you cannot wait to know more about him.

By the time you have almost gotten into Kell’s part, you meet Lila Bard – the thief so to say in Grey London and is far more enthusiastic than the greyness and gloom of this London. The story then becomes very interesting when Kell’s and Lila’s path cross (of course that’s a given), given Lila wants an adventure and Kell perhaps needs something else which he isn’t aware of. And before you know it, it is up to them to save all of the worlds from the deadliest enemy of them all.

Schwab’s writing is quick. She doesn’t waste them. You get to know about the characters by their actions, not as much as the author telling you about them. So, there is more showing, which is how it should be. Kell and Lila of course are multi-faceted and layered, and at the same time, you know exactly how they will react at times – you are that comfortable with them as a reader. You come across some really bad-ass villains which you will come to hate and the idea is that they just want to reintroduce vitari magic (you will learn of this as well) in all of Londons, thereby keeping them open to immense destruction. The characters are excellent. The plot is without any loop-holes and brilliantly conceptualized. More than anything, the writing is super. I cannot wait to finish the trilogy.