Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Ruby Iyer Diaries

One of the most popular variety of science fiction is dystopian fiction. Dystopian fiction is usually set in a future world where things have turned out to be as messed up as we feared it would. Dystopian fiction is a kind of cross over fiction. It can easily take the hues of literary fiction or thrillers. If the story dwells more on how some of our decisions of today would lead to deterioration of human society in the near or long term future and makes us reflect, it is literary fiction. 1984 is a classic example. On the other hand we have steam punk, cyber punk etc. that are more action thrillers set in a future world where environment is similar to the Wild West of the early 19th century. Most of the science fiction comes from the West and so we usually see a West centric view. So I was naturally curious when I came across a dystopian fiction by an Indian author. That too in the Young Adult genre. Of course dystopian fiction for young adults is not uncommon – in fact that seems to be the most popular genre with teenagers of today. Not for them the sweet goody goody tales of boarding schools, mysteries being solved in serene, peaceful hamlets in the hinterlands of Britain or adventures being had with the simple minded elves and goblins and enchanters. They are all hot blooded and want more romance, action and danger in their lives as we see in popularity of series like Hunger Games, Power of Five, Mortal Engines etc. Ruby Iyer, the protagonist of the series penned by Laxmi Hariharan is a character who kind of represents the teenager of today well – full of anger, angst and longing for romance.

The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer is supposed to be dystopian fiction set in a Mumbai from the near future. As I mentioned at the start, the idea of an Indian view of a dystopian world is what caught by attention. The book is supposed to be a part of larger Ruby Iyer series of which one book is out and two prequels dwellings upon the backgrounds of the two protagonists – Ruby and Vikram Roy. Ideally I should have picked up ‘Many Lives of Ruby Iyer’. But I happen to be a member of this group ‘The Book Club’ that carries out book tours and it so happened ‘The Ruby Diaries’ was the one offered for reviews and so I ended up picking that one up. The book as such is a very short one – running to just around 10,000 pages and is not much of a story seen on a standalone basis. It is more of a companion volume to the Ruby Series the way ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them’ and ‘Quidditch through the Ages’ are supporting volumes for Harry Potter fans and not much of stories in themselves.

Coming to the book itself, it does not do a complete Oliver Twist starting off with the time of her birth. It deals mostly with the five years prior to the events in the main series, touching upon the key turning points in Ruby’s life that have probably helped shape her character. Though it is titled Ruby Diaries, somehow I felt the book did not feel like a real diary - it did not have that raw unstructured outpouring of emotions like in a diary. The writing actually felt too refined and reflective. Talking of the writing, I must say I found the language and flow of narrative to be excellent as one would come to expect from an author who has been in the field of writing. One interesting thing I noticed was that the entire story was told in present tense, which is a very challenging tense to maintain through 10,000 words and I must say she has done a commendable job at that.

My overall feeling about the book is quite ambivalent. In my opinion, the book is something fans of the main series may be able to enjoy. But it does not really do much to draw the new reader in. There is not much of a plot or conflict as such in the story to hold the reader’s attention till the end. So the author has to wholly depend upon her narrative skills to maintain interest. The narrative as I mentioned earlier is very good but it is not one of those crazily humorous ones that has you rolling on the floor all the time or a dreamy poetic one that sets you off into raptures or so filled with angst that you would make the pages of the book go all soggy with your tears. As a speculative fiction buff, it is usually the new worlds created by authors that attracts me more than the characters. So an ideal teaser to draw me in would focus on the world. Ruby Iyer diaries however gives hardly any clue as to how the world in the story is different from our own. It reads more like an account set in contemporary times giving a glimpse into the life of typical teenager growing in up in one of those sophisticated upper class families.

I feel one can’t say much from reading this book alone except that the author has a good easy to read style, strong command over language, and does  descriptions really well. ‘Many Lives of Ruby Iyer’ I guess is the real thing. Maybe I will pick that up one of the days.

8 comments:

  1. Hmmm - A good narrative style is an attraction for me

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  2. Wonderful, detailed review. Liked it and how you picked the subtle nuances of the book. I missed a couple in my review. But I liked the book regardless. Reading the Book 1 now.

    "Though it is titled Ruby Diaries, somehow I felt the book did not feel like a real diary - it did not have that raw unstructured outpouring of emotions like in a diary. The writing actually felt too refined and reflective."

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    1. Thanks a lot, Indepreet. Will check out your review.

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  3. Thank you for a beautifully articulated review. The Ruby Iyer Diaries, si only the first novelette in a 6 part series. I think you will be surprised by The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer too. I also think you will be intrigued by UnTamed - the story of Wolf Girl Leana Iyeroy - The first hybrid in her family who only wants to be 100% human. Set in Bombay 2050, this is a snippet from the life of Ruby and Vikram's granddaughter. It was picked to feature in the UnCommon Bodies Anthology - a collection featuring some of the best new global voices in Speculative fiction. It releases next week and I do hope you'll stumble across that too :) Many thanks for taking out the time to read Ruby's Diaries.

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    1. Glad you liked my review. Good to know it is a full 6 book series. Will check out some of the others soon as well.

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  4. Coming from a connoisseur of science fiction, I am inclined to take each word of the review as a gospel. The author apparently needs to work more in the future installments.

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    1. Glad you have so much faith in my abilities as a good judge of science fiction.

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