My thanks to the author for a review copy of this book.
This is the fourth book I’ve read by Anuja Chandramouli, and while the first three I read were mythology, and a combination of mythology and fantasy, this one is purely historical fiction. Now I must confess that as is the case with Kartikeya, the other book by Chandramouli I read earlier this year, Prithviraj Chauhan was a character I knew very little of when I started the book―I knew he was a warrior king of course, but the only real ‘story’ I knew of him was that of his ‘romance’ with Princess Sanyukta, and one reference I same across in the context of the tale of Alha Udal (which I only read as a picture story―and really only finished now when I started this book) where he is presented as the ‘enemy’ of our heroes and indeed not in very positive light, with even the story with Sanyukta being given a different spin. So anyway, back to this book, I was really glad to actually read his story, which this book tells, pretty much starting with his birth, his life as a child, his education, his reign, wars, loves, and of course his end. He was a child for whom much glory but also great sorrow was portended, and in his story we see how the astrologers’ (one in particular, really) predictions played out.
From the blurb at the back of the book, the impression one gets is that this is a story of Prithviraj of course but also that his story with Sanyukta was the main focus. But this is not really so, the focus of the book is Prithviraj and his story with the Sanyukta legend only forming a small, though important part of it. This was something I actually liked about the book rather than holding against it. It gave a complete picture of the king’s life and deeds rather than focusing just the few legends one most often hears about him. I also liked that the author was able to present a quite good picture of the time as well―the various kingdoms and fiefdoms, the petty and more serious battles between them, the ‘politics’ of the time and of course, the threat and invasions from outside in the form of Muhammad of Ghazni and Mahmud of Ghur. One sees the essence of what was also to cause trouble in a much later age, the Kings attaching more to their petty fights and refusing to aid each other against threats from outside (even allying with them at times) bringing about not only their supposed enemies’ downfall but also their own. Another thing that I really liked about the book was that Chandramouli presented the characters, Prithviraj as well as others as human beings, and not ‘heroes’ in the storybook sense of the word. Prithviraj has several good qualities but he is not beyond having shades of grey and black even. We see his youth and impetuosity, which leads to differences with others older than him, his mother among them. Other characters too make good decisions and bad ones, but they are presented as human with failings and strengths. In fact, the only character who seemed to really have his head on his shoulders was his uncle Kanha, an unusually wide man. Even Prithviraj’s enemies when one comes to think of it, while presented, and naturally so, from Prithviraj’s perspective, don’t come across as outrightly evil (except some, anyway). Also, that the author has put in some research into writing this book is evident from the descriptions of the politics of the time, the alliances and battles, and various relationships but I won’t go into issues of accuracy since I haven’t got much knowledge of the time period, but I did notice a few variations from the Wikipedia account of Prithviraj (I glanced through but didn’t read thoroughly) and the Alha Udal picture story/comic (probably I shouldn’t attach as much to this one).
The book of course has Chandramouli’s characteristic vivid descriptions, which I enjoy reading but there is of course, as would be expected in a book which has its fair share of war, plenty of blood and gore. While most of it was justified, I still cringe a bit at the references to excreta, which while made sense in some cases, felt unnecessary in others.
A couple of things that I felt would have made the book better for the reader were one that the author should have included a map of the region which she is talking of which would have made the picture a lot clearer. Also she should have included one or more family trees explaining the various kingdoms and relationships as while one does get familiar with Prithviraj and his more immediate family pretty much from the start, when it comes to other branches, and the relationships between them, it took me a bit of time and some rereading to get my head around it.
This was overall a pretty good read for me―though it took a little time to really get into the story, once I was into it, I really enjoyed it even overlooking the things that I didn’t like so much about it. Looking forward to the author’s other historical fiction title that I have on my TBR- Padmavati!