UPON A BURNING THRONE

blurb as on Goodreads………..

Two princes, Shvate and Adri, are born in Hastinaga, capital of the vast Krushan empire—one blind, the other albino. Though one cannot see, and the other cannot face sunlight, the Dowager Empress Jilana and Prince Regent Vrath assure their people and allies that all will be well. Any rumblings of dissent are summarily quashed and none dares challenge the might of the Burnt Empire.

But when Jarsun of Reygistan’s daughter is spurned by the ruling family despite her legitimate claim to the Throne, Jarsun—a powerful demonlord—embarks upon a relentless campaign to destroy the Burnt Empire… and all who stand in his way.

review……………

From international sensation, Ashok K. Banker, pioneer of the fantasy genre in India, comes the first book in a ground-breaking, epic fantasy series inspired by the ancient Indian classic, The Mahabharata

In a world where demigods and demons walk among mortals, the Emperor of the vast Burnt Empire has died, leaving a turbulent realm without a sovereign. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule, but birthright does not guarantee inheritance: For any successor must sit upon the legendary Burning Throne and pass The Test of Fire. Imbued with dark sorceries, the throne is a crucible — one that incinerates the unworthy.

Adri and Shvate pass The Test and are declared heirs to the empire. But there is another with a claim to power, another who also survives: a girl from an outlying kingdom. When this girl, whose father is the powerful demonlord Jarsun, is denied her claim by the interim leaders, Jarsun declares war, vowing to tear the Burnt Empire apart — leaving the young princes Adri and Shvate to rule a shattered realm embroiled in rebellion and chaos…

 

Why Ashok Banker can be called as the Gen-Y Vyasa?

Krishna Dwaipayana Ved Vyasa or simply known as Vyasa worked and etched out his own epic, which may be based on his family line, for the people of his era, an era filled with people for whom meaning meant more than narration and imagery. But for a generation which awes at the sight of thrilling narration and “Bahubali” type graphics, Banker is the perfect storyteller for our generation.

When you are through with this humongous doorstopper- that’s obvious that the US proof I got is the whole book of 800 pages, whereas the Indian edition is divided into two parts of 400 each- you feel right from the start the vibe and feel of the amalgamation of Bahubali, Game of Thrones and Mahabharata. While the genesis of the story lies in the story of Mahabharata, the setup and narration are just eerie, fraught and fearsome as Bahubali and Game of Thrones.

While the Burning Throne of the Krushan empire burns down anyone who is found unworthy to rule, it gives immense power to the ruler who sits upon it. The tussle and fight of who would come “upon the burning throne”, is the narrative in the book. For when you read a Vyasa tale let it be Vyasa’s Ramayana too, you do not see him elaborating and imagining the whole tale making it longer, he is to the point like Banker is in his modern way, a to-the-point narration, short chapters yet a dense web of characters whose interplay forms the whole tale.

Maybe thus with all right and glory, Banker deserves to be called as our generation’s epic storyteller, the one who pioneered fiction-mythology genre in India, one after whose footsteps others like Amish and Ashwin walked. It is veracity to call Banker as the “Gen-Y Vyasa.”

 

A Garguatan World

The world of Arthaloka, where this story and the entire Burnt Empire series is set, is a single massive continent five times the size of all the land masses on our Earth put together, a kind of Pangea super-continent. (It doesn’t stay that way over the course of the series, but that’s another story for a much later discussion.) Everything on Arthaloka is gargantuan. Mount Coldheart is several times the height of our Mount Everest; nobody in that world knows or cares precisely how high. Because Arthaloka is a single super-continent, parts of it have entirely different climates and ecologies.

The only thing that unites them all is the living river, Jeel, which feeds the entire world. Jeel is inspired by the Ganges, or Ganga as we call her in India, but she is much, much bigger. And because Upon a Burning Throne and this short story are set in a much earlier age, the land and water are pristine, as perfect as can be. She’s also a living goddess and can take living forms, as this story shows us.

Just a note for Western Readers, who may feel odd in relating the book: Even though the Burnt Empire series is set in a fictional world, it draws inspiration from India, the Middle East and Asia in general. The language spoken isn’t Sanskrit but it’s closer to Sanskrit and Arabic than any other world languages.

 

Humanization is the answer

Expect riveting storylines and subplots from Upon A Burning Throne, it is Banker’s mastery of vocabulary and of the celestial language and narration that keeps audiences enraptured. Detailed descriptions of battle and violence, while a natural aspect of this horror-oriented tale, are not for the faint of heart though.

Ashok K. Banker has been appreciated for his gripping and racy style of writing. Each of his novels holds on to the reader’s attention given the steady pace of his novels and the way he merges the real world with fantasy. Readers find the characters relatable because while telling the stories of God, he humanizes them in the most relevant way. His in-depth research on every character – essentially the gods and goddesses we revere – and the plots show in his every piece of work. He oscillates between ostentatious language and simple presentation making his books attractive to read. His narration is balanced and realistic with subtle social commentary.

But it is not Gods and Goddesses that play in the plot this time, this time it is something kind of an Indian Game of Thrones party playing and dazzling in the plot. The story is set in a fictional universe and civilization, but if you are a keen observer and reader of Mahabharata, you can see the similarities, moreover if you are one who loved Shashi Tharoor’s modern rendering of Mahabharata, in his book “Great Indian Novel”, you are destined to love this book too.

 

Deviation and Beautification

As the title suggests, Banker’s newest offering uses the core myths around the Hindu epic Mahabharata to weave a fictional narrative. The story of the characters in the Burning Throne story is a tough one because they are not “straightforward” good and evil-like many others in the Pauranic pantheon. There are different versions of their story found in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Puranas, among other texts.

Many of these traits were carried forward in the Pauranic myths of the goods and evils, and are also faithfully represented in Banker’s version. However, the author deviates in several ways from the central myths, and this is what makes it “fiction”. Some of these deviations are clever and some seem unnecessary, but he manages to hold the narrative together through it all. It would be useful to recount the most popular versions of the core myths, in order to compare the points of difference.

 

Fanciful inventions and stomach-churning scenes

In fact, Banker dwells upon this dynamic so much that the supremely divine couple is reduced to an annoying duo next door. But this is just an example of his overarching need to humanize both gods and asuras in his stories. In doing so, Banker liberally alters the “classical fates” of these characters.

With fanciful inventions like these, the author tries to make his characters more relatable. While the result is sometimes effective, it also disappoints. Perhaps readers want their heroes and villains to be larger than life and not petty squabblers?

That’s not to say Banker cannot write “big”. He is particularly skilled in painting stomach-churning pictures of violence and war, bordering on the crass. Perhaps that is intended, for murders by ghouls and goblins must sound different from man-made deaths in his books.

 

The strength of the characters

The characters of the book are an interesting bunch too. Be it the charismatic, suave and charming Shvate or his knowledgeable and revered Jeel, be it the beautiful and courageous Jilana or the evil Jarsun, be it the all-knowing and highly accomplished human-god Vrath or the diabolical Adri – all the characters are well developed and will leave a lasting impression on the minds of the reader. There is an abundance of amazing, badass and strong women in this series. Even matriarchal kingdoms. Princesses are warriors and battle strategists, they slay in battle and rule as mothers. The main female characters are complex and are also as much important to the grand scheme of things although at times their role is mostly facilitating certain things into certain places for future purposes.

If I have to compare Banker’s writing to other more popular authors in this genre – I would say that he is a combination of Dan Brown and Vyasa. I am just surprised by the fact that it took him so long to realize his passion and get into pure fiction writing (we surely were being denied of a very talented author all these years). The frequent change in place and timeline works wonders towards keeping the interest of the reader alive. The build-up, the storyline, the tease – all of it makes the book an absolute page-turner and an un-put-down-able read.

 

Entertainment and a Thrilling plot

The beauty of Banker’s writing lies in his intricately designed plots and diverse characters. This is quite visible in Upon a Burning Throne as well. The frequent change in the locations of the narratives makes the book all the more exciting and compelling.

In my opinion, the jaw-dropping introduction of each new plot and character was the best part of the book. Every single chapter created intrigue and each character was brought about as an unraveled mystery.

The entertainment factor of the book is spot on. Throughout the course of the book, there is always an excitement to get to the next page. The fact that Banker ends most of the chapters with sentences like below makes the book even more exciting.

“What he saw froze him to death…”

“His heart told him it was over.”

“…Then he gasped when he realized who it was.”

These sentences are meant to make sure that the reader’s interest does not waver and I must say that’s a fantastic way to keep the fire alive. Considering everything that I have mentioned so far, the book is an absolute winner when it comes to entertainment quotient.

What I absolutely loved in this book is its strong plot. If there is one thing that appears to have taken a good amount of effort and thinking, it is the plot. The overall effect is pure entertainment. In very simple terms, there is never a dull moment in the book. Not for one tiny second it loses its pace or assumes monotony. For this, I would definitely like to congratulate the author.

 

Powerful narration and amazing imagination

In his remarkable speech at the burial of Julius Caesar, Marc Antony starts by criticizing Caesar and praising Brutus, but from the first word itself, it is loaded with political shrewdness. Ashok Banker is a brilliant writer. In a country where English proficiency is equated with brilliance, he often dazzles the middle-class Indians with his esoteric English wordplay. However, possession of a good thesaurus and nimble fingers for tweeting are of not much help in navigating the complex jungle of Indian politics, where ruthless beasts of greater shrewdness roam around. It seems Banker has decided to use his skills in writing to carve out space for himself in this teeming wilderness and perhaps become the lion king one day.

One must bow down before Banker for his prowess in the powerful narration. the best part of the book is its beauty in the emotions generated by the chapters and the gripping narrative. I felt that the beauty of the language and simple yet lucid vocabulary of Banker makes the book, truly a “masterpiece”. one cannot put down the book if you have started once. although the book is of 700 pages, you would at least twenty days if you are a fast reader- for completing the book, for you are sometimes left boggled by some intense scenes.

For the narration, it is just mind-boggling. the way he captures each character and emotions in his pen would leave you enthralled. you while reading the book go through a lot of fight scenes, and Banker explains each as a fight master. you would go mad by the intense and riveting fights and dialogues. the characters are such well bound with the reader that you live through them throughout the book. there is not even a single dull moment in the book, that you can point out.

 

The Tale of Power and Dharma told with the best language

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster . . . when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss also gazes into you”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Ashok Banker is a thesaurus of traditional mythology. His latest novel UABT is an engaging handbook on a character of Indian Mythology which is somewhat least popular. His dedication to writing about someone whose journey is unknown to the masses speaks volume.  Amalgamating fiction with mythology and rendering the novel a modern look, the author has done an applauding work. He has offered both sacred stories in the form of short incidences and an intriguing perspective of various characters.

One of the aspects that would come to attention while reading this book is its language. it’s a double sided sword that can cut sharp into the readers. I found two aspects with the language. At one side each line is coiled and lengthy carrying heavy details and meaning. On the other hand, it is a beauty in words. some of the lines have actually swooned worthy with its poetic quality. The language is art for this book. It is a bit difficult but beautiful at the same time. For me personally, I absolutely loved the language. It made all the difference for me in the book

The other important aspect was the treatment of the plot. It definitely wasn’t a child’s play and I absolutely adore the boldness and the creative risk, the author had taken especially considering how sensitive and vulnerable religious aesthetics run in India. I am pretty sure that there would be at least a small group of readers who would have their eyes bulging at the way the narration movies. That is why I felt the book was amazing because the narration and the way the author decided to narrate the popular mythology is super impressive nevertheless a really bold step.

 

The Last Appraisal

A dense web of characters unfolds the deceit that permeates every nook and alley of Hastinaga and the storytelling is tight and fraught with intrigue. Your interest never wanes. You worry for the headstrong Shvate and your heart crumbles like a soggy cookie over the plight of the stoic Adri. You loathe the sadistic Vrath and smile sadly for Jilana. A chill runs down your spine over the mechanizations of Jarsun and others and fear lodges in your throat as the noblemen of other parts vie for power through dastardly deeds. You get a giant knot in your throat over the plight of the poor and exploited in a land that claims to be just and generous to its subjects.

Upon A Burning Throne is a tale told with masterful control over the narrative. The pace never slackens and the story is never offered up at the altar of world-building details Upon A Burning Throne is undoubtedly a compelling read – it is one of those “on-the-edge-of-your-seat” novels which keeps the reader hooked on right till the end. I would, therefore, recommend it to all lovers of fiction.

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: This is an unbiased review of the US edition of the book sent to me by the publishers. The book is set to be released  on April 16, 2019.

The book has been released recently in India in two parts by Simon and Schuster India. Many thanks to them for providing me with a copy of the Indian edition. The updated review and captures of the Indian can be found here.

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