Category Archives: fantasy

Beast by Krishna Udayasankar

Beast by Krishna Udayasankar Title: Beast
Author: Krishna Udayasankar
Publisher: Penguin eBury Press
ISBN: 978-0143444480
Genre: Thriller, Fantasy
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

So, I must admit that I do not read Indian crime or fantasy. That’s just my preference and nothing to do with how its written. Although this time I made an exception and deep-dived into “Beast” by Krishna Udayasankar and loved every bit of it. I think it had to do a lot also with the pacing, beside most things. It works superbly for a novel of this nature – a novel steeped in mystery, reads like an action thriller (is also by the way), and interspersed richly with fantasy, character development and parallel running storylines that do not lose sight of overall plot.

Beast is an urban fantasy thriller, deeply set in Indian myths and legends. Krishna Udayasankar doesn’t stray from what she knows best and that’s fantastic to me as a reader. I’ve read Immortal and loved the way the story was told. The narration of Three left me stunned. And might I also add, that her books grow on you. The narration grabs you and then you are hooked. Beast delivers on all of this and more.

Aditi Kashyap, the assistant commissioner of police is called to solve a gory triple homicide in a Mumbai suburb. The story starts this way and before you know it, she is a part of the terrifying world of the Saimhas – werelions, who live alongside humans since ancient times. She joins hands with Prithvi, an Enforcer called on to solve this case and hunt the murderer. That is the plot in a nutshell.

Udayasankar’s writing is detailed, rich, and her dialogues are absolutely on-point. No sentence is out of place. No one is out of character at any point and of course the female agency that Aditi has is much-needed in art. And might I also add that this isn’t your cliché werewolf story, if that’s what you think it is. Not at all. Far from it. I loved the  friendship between characters The friendship and camaraderie was something else and worked like a charm – the one that you can perhaps relate to in daily life.

Beast most certainly also needs a sequel to answer some plot points, however, that’s just my POV. The book is extremely entertaining, and if you like a good fantasy-cum-thriller, this is the book for you. Hands Down! Even if you don’t like this genre, pick up the book.

 

Magical Women. Stories edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

Magical Women Title: Magical Women
Stories edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 978-9388322027
Genre: Fantasy, Magic
Pages: 232
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

An anthology isn’t easy to edit. There are varied voices – each with their own agenda, writing style, and each writer that adds wonderfully to the collection. Sukanya Venkatraghavan, author of Magical Women has done a wonderful job of the anthology of 14 Indian women writers writing fantasy and all things magical in the aptly titled, “Magical Women”.

All these stories may seem similar at some level, and probably they are – most of them reflect on Indian magical creatures and stick to making them relevant for our time and age. What is also wonderful is how the “feminist angle” is subtle, but strong. It doesn’t shout out from the rooftop, but it is there – in your face, making you aware of how you read some narratives or stories.

The collection starts off with “Gul” by Shreya Ila Anasuya – a story of love, a story of freedom, a story of longing and nostalgia that was rounded beautifully. A read that I still think of once in a while.

There are also the obvious stories of goddesses in the modern context and they work superbly as well. The one that stood out for me was Nikita Deshpande’s “The Girl who Haunted Death” – a story of Savitri and her love for her husband. But this one of course is with a twist that I would not want to reveal. The prose and the context of this story astounded me – almost made me think of various conclusions and interpretations, and that’s what a good story is supposed to do.

All these stories infuse new life to the form of storytelling – they don’t follow a linear plot and even if it seems that they do, it is usual very deceptive. Kiran Manral’s story, “Stone Cold” for instance is dystopian in nature and deeply rooted in ancient myths and culture. The merging of the two makes it unique, but not only that – the brevity of the story makes it even more interesting.

We live in times when patience runs thin. People need to consume content at a fast pace, and something that is also very relevant and thought-provoking, and above all entertaining. Sukanya Venkatraghavan has done a fantastic job of merging these elements when it comes to setting up this anthology. More than anything else, the writers have individually contributed to the whole idea beautifully.

Yes, like any other anthology, you don’t expect to love them all. I have my favourites and then there are the ones that aren’t favourites. However, every story will find its reader. The one who will love that story more than the others.

Whether it is “Gandaberunda” by S.V. Sujatha, a tale of a sinister tattoo, or “Apocalyptica” by Krishna Udayasankar which will take you by surprise, even though you think you have an idea of what it is going by the title, every story says something unique.

I loved the overtones of feminism and also its undertones, depending on the writer. Neither the writers of these stories, nor the stories themselves fit in a box. I think for the sake of convenience we shall catalog them in a genre. After all, “Magical Women” aren’t meant to be handled by all. Definitely not mere mortals. Read the book though. It is all worth it.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

BLRW Title: Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Dark Star Trilogy)
Author: Marlon James
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241315583
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 640
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Black Leopard Red Wolf is a piece of art – it needs to be read with such intensity and focus. This came to be as I went along with the read, it sort of grows on you and then you are hooked. I might gush right now, however, you just cannot read it in one sitting – you need time to devour it, embrace it, and most importantly love it. A lot of people have compared it to Tolkien or GRR Martin’s works but let me also tell you that it is extremely different from any of those writers’ creation. It is for one set in several worlds – each complete in their own and not so much – it challenges the reader at every step to figure and know more, only to turn back the pages to make the connect between places and people.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf may not also be everyone’s cup of tea. Having said that, I would urge everyone who has little interest in literature to read it – only to be aware of what literature is and what it can achieve. With the sheer style of writing, that almost changes with every chapter, the crumbs of information left here and there for the reader to pick up on, and more than anything else it achieves to bring out a lot of emotions in the reader. From love to envy to desire (raging at that), to sometimes even anger towards situations and people caught in it, you just can’t get enough of BLRW.

BLRW is high-fantasy, it is also a book that challenges you, your world, the way you think, and how you most commonly perceive the world to be. It makes you see ancient worlds seeped in African myths that perhaps you weren’t aware of. So in that sense, it also makes you go down the rabbit hole of mythology that makes you a more-aware person at the end of it. For instance, the way James writes about the Anansi Tales or the Sundiata Epic and makes it a part of his story, is what most writers might have struggled with. And it is only the beginning – the first in the Dark Star trilogy, at around six hundred and twenty pages.

What is the book about?

The book is set in several ancient kingdoms. It is the quest for a missing boy. Tracker is one of the questers who has been hired by a mysterious figure to bring the boy back, given the fate of a kingdom. You get to realize this only when you are halfway through the book. So wait for it, and even then James doesn’t give it all away. Tracker isn’t the only one who has been hired. It is a motley crew – a chatty giant, a shape-shifting leopard, a witch, a buffalo, a girl raised to be the food of the ogres, and a water goddess who melts into puddles. Tracker is known for his nose. His nose is known to lead him to any missing person. This is all I shall reveal about him for now. Also, where Tracker is from? Where are the other characters, what is their role to play in this quest, etc are questions that I am sure will be answered in the remaining two parts of the trilogy.

The group dynamics are what one would expect – there is humour, there is conflict – sometimes with little or no resolution, and there is a camaraderie of sorts between them. Marlon’s Tracker and Leopard might be linked to Achilles and Patroclus, but they have so much more rage, fury, and desire.

Also, might I add that the start of the book gives you a list of 80 characters that will appear and reappear throughout the book or the trilogy in this case. While this is intimidating, it is most certainly very helpful to go back to time and again. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is violent, it is not your usual comfort-food story that is based on folktales that heal you. Men, women, and children are raped to death and that in a way only brings out the tenderness of the protagonist. While African mythology is largely at its base, plot, and structure, it is also earthy, salted with stunning chase and fight scenes, unfolding at a very leisurely pace. Marlon James’ world is superlatively unique and that’s what makes Black Leopard, Red Wolf so darn refreshing. I honestly don’t think that it can be compared to any works of high-fantasy. The worlds built – shape and reshape as you the reader, goes along with the book. There are surprises and shocks along the way that make the story tumble on its head, making you wonder as the reader if you ever got it right to begin with.

Might I also add that the queer perspective of the book is brilliant. I have not in my reading of fantasy literature come across a prominent queer protagonist (there are many on the surface and as sidebars to the protagonist, but just someone as complete as Tracker for sure, I haven’t) and Marlon James nails it down pat. The love so to say between Tracker and Leopard is of magnanimous proportions and that can only be understood once you are one-third into the book. For me as a queer reader, it was overwhelming, and full of love. It was the kind of love that I was searching for in fantasy literature but hardly found it and I am extremely glad that Marlon James wrote about it.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a novel that resists categorisation and classification of any kind and rightly so. It is set in a world that is researched brilliantly given the myths handed down from Central and West Africa. It is a world that does not conform to gender. It breaks it to the core. It is a world of political corruption, queer identity, and love and some glorious sex while we are at it, between black men.

A lot of care and thought has gone in the making of these characters. Marlon James really couldn’t be bothered with the relatability aspect, and yet as a reader he leaves it all up to you. Queer love to me is at the heart of this novel – it is beautiful in every single way and stands up against patriarchy. Also, the following two books are versions of the same elements told by other characters – almost like a Rashomon style of telling the story. Yes, there are black fantasy writers such as N.K. Jemisin (whose Broken Earth trilogy also has queer characters), and Walter Mosley, and even Nalo Hopkinson to name a few, however none of them were or are able to bring out the aspect of race and queer identity in the same way that James has.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is to be read for its dejected women – who are brave and fearless and will make their voices heard. Read it for the thrill, adventure, and quest that will grab you by the throat at every single page and not let you go. The plot intricacies that will make you want to reread it at least once more. Read it because it is subtle, in your face, loud, violent, and sexy. You must read it because it is the best you will read this year. Or at least, one of the best. 

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi AdeyemiTitle: Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha)
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-1509871353
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Pages: 544
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5  Stars

Hands down one of the best fantasy I have read in recent times, and by that, I mean in the last fifteen years or so! Children of Blood and Bone is the first part of a series and let me tell you that I just couldn’t get enough of it. While the regular tropes of any high-fantasy exist, it is also an intelligent book and doesn’t spoon-feed the reader at any point of time in the narrative. You must make the effort to read carefully and connect the dots.

The book starts off instantly. There is no build-up as such because Adeyemi has so much to say. I wish I could do justice to the book with this review. I shall try. There are layers and sub-layers in the narrative, with the focal point being magic and how to get it back. The African culture is seeped within in the story so strongly that it is so refreshing to read about it as you go along. Their gods, their way of life, their myths are integrated beautifully by Adeyemi in this tale of the revival of Orïshan magic.

Zélie remembers the time when Orïsha was full of magic – the entire land, and when different clans ruled and each of them had their role to play. And one night, all the magic disappeared. The plot then is to bring back magic to a land without hope and now ruled by a tyrant monarch. As the plot unravels, we see Zélie coping with her doubts when it comes to magic and its revival and more than anything else the one thing she should not be doing and ends up doing anyway.

Adeyemi’s writing is so good. She captures the much-needed gender and social injustices that should be talked about. The oppressed and the oppressor are captured in the most humane way possible with magic lurking in every corner of the page. “Children of Blood and Bone” moves so fast that sometimes you must stop and catch your breath. The characters are varied and not one-dimensional at all. The writing like I said before, is stunning and I for one cannot wait for the second book, which will be a long time coming. A must must read!

 

 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Sourdough Title: Sourdough
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: MCD, Farrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374903343
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

If you’ve read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one. If you haven’t read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one again. “Sourdough” is a mix of almost everything – fantasy, science fiction, satire, literary fiction and a profoundness to it like no other book I’ve read in some time. Robin Sloan somehow manages to roll everything in one and does a pretty good job of it.

“Sourdough” follows the story of a young computer programmer (again), Lois Clary from Michigan into something so dark that it takes you by surprise and also shock in so many places. Lois does nothing but code – all night and sleeps all day. Her human contact is limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood joint from which she orders food every evening. The brothers close shop and it is to Lois to keep their sourdough starter alive. She basically has to learn how to bake with it, which she clearly doesn’t know.

The book is weird. From here on it takes turns and twists that you wouldn’t believe (much in the vein of Mr. Penumbra’s), however, if you read deeper (which I am sure you will at some point), you will find elements of alienation, immigration issues and what it is to be American and not be starkly evident. This book is so weird (I know I am being repetitive but I have to) that at times I didn’t know what I was reading or why. You have to be patient with the prose to be involved so you cannot let go. And might I also add that you would crave sourdough while reading this book, so be prepared.

“Sourdough” cannot be classified into a genre but I have to because I have no choice, really. All I can say is that if you like your reading a little over the edge and funky, you must try this one for sure.