My thanks to the author and Penguin Randomhouse India for a review copy of the book.
This is the second book in the Yama’s Lieutenant series which sees our hero Agni Prakash still grappling with his demons and indeed the visions that haunt him, while having to tackle a new and far more dangerous enemy than he did in his first adventure. This book follows pretty much the same format as the first―we have Agni Prakash’s story and new adventure and parallel to it, a second story, from his sister Varu’s book (though he had finished her manuscript in book 1, new words suddenly appear in it and he finds a second story). The evils Agni Prakash faced on his first outing have been contained but his duties as Yama’s lieutenant are continuing. Meanwhile a new evil seems to have been unleashed on the world. Agni finds himself called on, this time by the agrima (chief) of the order of the Kimkaras (truth seekers who oversee the doings of the mortals) to find the samayakalas (time keepers) to get them to reverse time, and the terrors unleashed by Nayima, the stone witch of the title. Only, approaching the samayakalas is forbidden for mortals or immortals alike, and one who does so meets a fate worse than death. So once again, Agni Prakash has a seemingly impossible task before him. In this he is helped by old friends, the land spirit Dharami and kritya (wielder of earth magic) Minothi, as well as some new ones, but also finds himself having to call on an old enemy for assistance, something he is understandably reluctant to do. The story that runs alongside in this one is of Yama certainly, but more so of his consort Dhumorna, and tells us why and how she ended up as she did in the first book. The characters in both stories face trials of their own, and tragedy and sacrifice are truths they must confront and choices they must make.
The villainess of the piece, the stone witch Nayima is rather different from the “villains” Agni battled in the first instalment, in that while she does unleash terror and destruction on the world, her purpose is one that Agni, and us readers too can appreciate―it is her means that he really has to battle, and that unfortunately seems too strong for him and his friends to be able to conquer. She seems herself caught between wanting to “help” our hero in a way, and wanting to do what she thinks is right for the world.
In this one we get to learn a little more about Agni, what he wanted to do before his world turned upside down after his twin sister Varu’s death, but he still seems aloof and like we don’t really know him, unlike Minothi, who has fought through (and still is fighting) her own troubles controlling her magic, who one seems to feel one knows better. Dhumorna’s story was may be not as interesting to me as Yama and Yami’s tale in the first book but it clears up many things and put them in perspective.
I enjoyed once again the plot, and the mythological elements of the tale, as well the author’s weaving of contemporary concerns – in fact of the two worlds. Despite being a fantasy adventure it brings up a predicament very much a cause of concern for all of us today―human beings pillaging, damaging, and destroying the earth, and rather relentlessly so. (Reading recently about Earth Overshoot Day moving up in the calendar every successive year made me think of this theme all the more.) Other hard truths like human trafficking are also dealt with.
There were also some surprise revelations at the end, one of which I actually did guess but all of which I nevertheless enjoyed.
The gory bits in the book though were still a bit much for me (speaking in the context of book 1) though here it didn’t feel (as in the first book) like it was put in even where it wasn’t needed but one still keeps wondering why the characters must constantly be in or pass through places that are quite so repulsive. Then, I thought Minothi’s language in some places seemed a tad too “modern” for one who was brought up in a Mutt, away from the mainstream world―somehow one wouldn’t expect her to speak that way (expressions like “war buddy”, for instance). Another little issue was the first chapter (also, the fourth) vis-à-vis the rest of the story―with the amount of detail about the characters described there, I thought there’d be a bit more about them later on (may a further role even if as a monster), but they seemed to just disappear. At another place, Agni’s thought process on the upakshina he has spared some pages ago, seems a bit at odds with what he has done―I wondered whether the author was trying to create a Harry Potter–Dobby kind of relationship (in a more grown up context of course) but while one felt it, it didn’t entirely come through.
While the book does give the reader enough of the story from book 1 to make sense of this book if one reads this one alone, I did feel it would make far more sense (particularly Dhumorna’s tale) if one read these in order.
Once again the author gives us a creative plot, and an interesting adventure with some unexpected twists which made for fairly interesting reading though like book 1, for me (may be, this is really a matter of personal taste), it would have done better with less gore.