Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Book Review: Ashwatthama's Redemption: The Rise of Dandak by Gunjan Porwal

Title: Ashwatthama's Redemption: The Rise of Dandak

Author: Gunjan Porwal

Publisher: Om Books International 

Genre: Mythological Fiction

Date:  2018

Price: INR 257/93.45 (kindle)

Pages: 264

Reading time: 5 hours

SNAPSHOT: Fantasy based Historical/Mythological Fiction is generally very predictable, as it generally uses a common or much used basic template, usually from some iconic author or book. It may still be fun to read, fast paced etc – many examples exist; but uniqueness is not the forte in quite a number of cases. Therefore, it is with genuine surprise that I note the presence of uniqueness in the current book under review – Ashwatthama’s Redemption : The Rise Of Dandak, authored by Pune based Gunjan Porwal.


For those among us who may not be aware, or readers from outside India, Ashwatthama is a famed warrior from our past, from the Mahabharata era. This war, fought among all the kings of Ancient India, divided in 2 camps – Kauravas & Pandavas, resulted in a loss for The Kauravas, who were cunning and arrogant, bordering on Evil. Ashwatthama was the Son of the Guru {Teacher} of both sides & an accomplished warrior himself with Divine origins of birth, and in a fit of rage, after hostilities had ceased and the Pandav side won, killed all the major Pandav warriors – and attacked the unborn Son of the only surviving heir to the Pandav Line. For this act of Evil, he was cursed with eternal life of misery.


This above is established in innumerable scriptures and documents, {referred to in our ancient literature as itihaas meaning history, whether or not the West accepts it}. The author has chosen this Divine personality for a fictional story. {Ashwatthama is among the 7 chiranjeevi - which means blessed with eternal life; he cannot die, even as per ancient documents}. The concept chosen here is that life gives Ashwatthama another chance to redeem himself, when Evil rises once again on the planet.

 The time period is Ancient India, around 2900BC. A 100 years after the shattering epochal war, The Mahabharata, the Evil from the past rises once again, in the form of Dandak and his forces. The new kings, aware of Dandak’s capabilities, and having no experience of Warfare – let alone against such a powerful foe, look for the famed Ashwatthama to lead them against this new challenge to peace that has arisen so soon after the cataclysmic war that cost so much for Good to triumph over Evil. This book is the first part of a series that tells of how Ashwatthama rises above the ghosts of his past, reclaims himself and comes to lead the forces of Good…


First of all, the premise is unique – take a household name from Indian History, and write a completely fictional story around him. That takes imagination, knowledge, guts and research. And Ashwatthama is precisely that – a household name in India. The new character has to be in keeping with what everyone knows of Ashwatthama – and that is a serious challenge to take, given every kid in India will likely have heard of this epochal tragic character from the  Great War of Ancient India, The Mahabharata. Furthermore, we are talking of a legendary Warrior with unparalleled combat skills. Representing that is hard, period. Well, the author has carried it off with style!

Next, the story. {I ain't saying a word. Read it for yourself – no spoilers from me!}. Suffice it to state that it is a riveting story. The author has managed to draw in the reader, and keep him glued till the last page. The pace is rapid, with not even one false step anywhere; at no point does it slacken, keeping pace throughout. There are no detours, and no sensationalist stuff and expected things like the lady –the heroine getting kidnapped – usually a standard ploy of all authors. Just a simple no-nonsense focus on the main story – and that is the upcoming war. That’s it.   The characterization is excellent, and all the characters stay with  you long after you have completed the book.

RC Rating: 5/5. 
All in all, this is one of the finest in the historical-fantasy genre. This rating is for its uniqueness, its story, its complete lack of vulgarity and rough language, its splendid characterisation, its fantastic pace, and its treatment of the central character. This is a fast read, and is a riveting book, one you really shouldn’t be missing if fantasy and / or historical fiction is your thing. As you put it down after the last page, you feel a distinct regret that the next part is not available… I will go so far as to say I will mark this book to the king of Indian Historical Fiction – Vineet Bajpai, as recommend he read it!

Gunjan Porwal, engineer by day and writer by night, is fascinated by Indian mythology, especially the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
After graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur in 2002, Gunjan worked in MNCs as an engineer while contemplating writing anything other than code.
Gunjan lives in Pune with his wife, children and parents. Ashwatthama’s Redemption: The Rise of Dandak is his debut novel.

Book Reviewed by : Vishal Kale 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Review: Hungry Gods by Richa Lakhera

Title: Hungry Gods

Author: Richa Lakhera

Publisher: Rupa Publications

Genre: Crime (Fiction)

Date:  2018

Price: INR 265/212 (kindle unlimited)

Pages: 186

Reading time: 4 hours

Hungry Gods is easily one of the most unique works of fiction I have come across in my life; it stands out for its in-your-face unique blunt approach. This is a fast moving, riveting but dark book – a story of brutal revenge, hard worded and racy, a story of hard words, harder facts and harsh realities of life for the unfortunate. Reviewing this book is not easy – given my proclivity for an insistence on complete language control in a book. Yet, remarkably enough, upon keeping this book aside after finishing it – the aspect of language does not even begin to register on my mind.

The story  is in two distinct storylines  – first, an unnamed mystery Rape n Murder of a woman; and the attendant revenge by the lone survivor, sadly the lady’s son or daughter. This mystery of identity and specifics is kept till the literal last page of the book. This forms the core story; the other aspect involved is one of Corporate Scandals, with a Pharma company being accused / suspected of major hanky-panky, with someone from the press investigating the same. Also involved is the TV industry, where a serial is being sponsored by this company. As the plot moves ahead – people connected with both the above – The company and the Serial, start dying one-by-one

The backdrop, or the setting, of the above two stories is set in a dual system – one being the TV industry, and other a sordid Drug background, a background where drugs, alchohol and crime mix into a heady seething potion of trouble, uncertain loyalties, unclear lines and bad vibes. And this is why the bad words and the blunt sexual descriptions don’t stand out: they gel in with the background. In fact, the blunt violence, sex, drugs, atmosphere, swear words all seem to mix into one logical whole. Full credit to the author for creating such a powerful and strong visual imagery and backdrop, one that is sure to stun you and pull you in.

For the rest, the Characterisation is different; the characters are roughly etched, not fully filled in – and yet leave a strong impression on the reader. When you keep the book aside, you are left with a strong impression of the bad chaps – deeply etched in some cases. That speaks for itself! There is no good, no bad here : this is too realistic, in fact. Only shades of grey everywhere; again – this is also in consonance with the overall theme, setting and story – makes it doubly realistic.

The most riveting part of the story  is the Pharmaceutical & corruption angle. This has been deliberately kept as a secondary theme, which leads to the punch and the surprise! The focus on the Serial, underplaying the murder and the Pharma Company, was unique in my memory at least. At the same time, an opportunity was lost – a fantastic thriller could have been visualized around this theme of the Corporate Corruption… maybe next  time, the author can think of this! The author’s objective in this book is different, a look at the underside of Humans… which she has successfully brought in vivid stark imagery that is certain to jolt and shock you, though the naked powerplay that could have been focused on a bit more than is the case now.

The story is fast paced, in fact frenetic in places – but for the most part, the pace is calibrated and deliberate. The imagery, the word skill that creates vivid images in your mind of the backdrop, setting and overall storyline is fantastic; read it for this alone. In Conclusion – a unique book, one that is a recommended read for its unique approach, skilled wordplay, storyline and overall approach.

RC RATING: 4/5. Recommended only if you routinely read the genre.