Sunday 3 July 2016

Book Review: The Prince of Pataliputra, by Shreyas Bhave

Book Review: The Prince of Pataliputra, by Shreyas Bhave

Publisher: Frog Books
Buying Link: Amazon (Kindle version available)
Pages: 382 (approx 90,000 words)

I have written at length about the unfortunate tendency of writers to pander to genre. The harvest of light romances spawned by the success of Chetan Bhagat and Durjoy Dutta is the most obvious example, and I delved into it earlier on this blog.

Almost as pernicious has been the rise of mythological / historical novels set in Vedic of pre-Islamic India, a trend that might owe something to the stupendous success of Amish Tripathi. Now it is easy to lump all these imitations the same way one might do for the works of the wannabe CeeBee’s, but perhaps that is a little unfair. Perhaps it is the literary merits of Indian mythology or the fact that history is often fascinating on its own, but even mediocre writing is sometimes uplifted by the subject. In a way this was true of Amish’s Shiva Trilogy as well, which I reviewed here.

But it is always refreshing to find a book that does actually stand out amidst the clutter, especially when the author is a debutant, as is the case with Shreyas Bhave and The Prince of Pataliputra, the first of a planned Asoka Trilogy.

The Prince of Pataliputra covers two parallel plots – the rise to power of Asoka in the declining years of Samrat Bindusar circa. 270 BCE, and the rise to power of Chandragupta Maurya about 50 years earlier. Narrated partly in third person and partly in first person through Chanakya, the author gives us glimpses of the Greco-Indian wars, Chanakya’s quest to consolidate the princes of India into a single entity and of the machinations of Radhagupta to put Asoka on the throne, as well as the young Prince’s own campaigns.

Also woven into the narrative is a burgeoning conflict between the established religion – Brahminical Hinduism and Buddishm, reflected in the ideological and practical differences between the ruling class and many of the merchants.

The primary characters are Asoka, Radhagupta and Chanakya, along with other tertiary figures like Raja Ambhi, Alexander, Porus, Kanadutta the arms dealer and Devi the Vaidya (the female lead).

This is a plot-driven story, which means that character portrayal takes a back seat to some extent. Mr. Bhave does a decent job with the main characters, whose motivation and nature we do get a glimpse of, though the secondary characters can be a little one-dimensional.

The style is very fluid and the writing fast-paced, making the book sprint forward with the pace of a well-written thriller rather than a dreary historical. As the historical context and events are reasonably well-known to an Indian audience (or should be), Mr. Bhave focuses on events and people.

His skill in writing action is admirable, and he is able to bring a fight to life in the matter of a few words without faltering or overdoing it, a great asset in a book where there is no dearth of action scenes.

There are a lot of conversations, the dialogue is quick and snappy, and the author is able to pack the book with incidents even when the plot may not be moving forward quite as quickly as it appears to be. I’d say this is actually a good thing, by the way!

There are enough call-backs and foreshadowing to indicate that the plotting has been done carefully, and the writer can claim to bring shades of James Patterson-esque writing to this genre, making it quite exciting.

The little things
As far as language goes, there are errors of commission that the author needs to look at. Usage of certain words like ‘biased’ is incorrect. At times, one wishes for more detailing or a more elaborate turn of phrase, but I suppose it’s a wishlist item that Mr. Bhave can look at in his own time. It is better the way it is – sort of a quicker, better version of Amish – than becoming a half-way hybrid.

The Prince of Pataliputra is an excellent debut work, bringing the spirit of a thriller to the genre of historical fiction. A relatively quick read, it can be equally recommended to fans of Amish and Dan Brown.

The book was received as a review copy. The reviewer has no personal relationship with the author. 

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