The Soul Warrior
Any fans of Percy Jackson out there? Have you wished someone did what Rick Riordan did for Greek, Egyptian and Norse myth for Indian myth as well? A fun filled jazzy contemporary urban fantasy with basis in Indian mythology! If your answer to all earlier questions is yes, I have just the book for you – Soul Warrior by Falguni Kothari – like Percy Jackson it is a series too and this is just the first book of a trilogy. But wait! There is a catch! There is always one, isn’t it? The author is an Indian Mills and Boon author. So what you may ask. After all this is not a romance, right? This is Mythology, with a capital M. Indeed it is. But the story is written in Chick Lit style with more focus on clothing, physique and chemistry between protagonists than on the typical focus on prophesy, battles and world exploration.
I am generally a bit cautious in picking up new authors. With one spoilt for choice there is actually no rush to be the first one to discover a new author. I prefer to leave others to do the discovery and I pick up the book after it has become popular. For instance even in the case of Harry Potter, the fourth book was already out by the time I jumped on to the bandwagon. But now and then I do dabble in new authors. Success rate has been something in the range of one in ten, convincing me that I am better off letting others do the discovery part. But still being a complete fantasy buff and an aspiring fantasy writer, I was curious to check out a fantasy based on Indian mythology. So when The Book Club offered this book up for review, I immediately signed up for the same.
The basic premise of the story is around the character Karna from Mahabharata ascending to divinity post the end of his earthly existence and assuming the position of a celestial demon hunter on request by Yama, the God of death. The story begins in modern times with the divine trinity appearing before Karna and requesting him to take up the training of the six children of Draupadi as demon hunters, one of who turns out to be Karna’s own child. There is also the looming threat of an Asura resurgence and a sinister prophesy. The plot revolves around the preparation for a final showdown between the stone demon Vala and Karna and his protégés. A good portion of the book is also devoted to the romance between Karna and Draupadi. Apparently lot of versions of Mahabharata have speculated on possible hidden undertone of love hate relationship between Karna and Draupadi – this book explores the possibility it to the fullest extent outside the settings of the Mahabharata where this would have been impossible.
The general tone of narrative is snarky. In some places it gave me a few good laughs. In others, it felt silly or clichéd. Also I felt the casual nature of the narrative took away the seriousness of the story and the story did not have sufficient narrative tension to keep me hooked on to the plot. The conflict and antagonists were not given sufficient attention – instead too much space was devoted to the romance between Draupadi and Karna and the antics and quirks of Draupadi’s children. So overall the story was quite flaccid. I don’t know if this is how typical romance readers like their stories to be. I personally found even the romance part too cheesy. But then I do not read romance and have no idea what a typical romance reader looks for.
One of the crucial elements of any fantasy novel is world building. I could see the author has put in quite some effort in this direction to reconcile various elements from Mahabharata and other Indian myths around Gods and demons. However as a fantasy buff this is an area where I like more detail and the level of detailing failed to live up to my expectations.
The author has tried to give interesting dimensions to the character of Karna and Draupadi. She has also created an interesting cast of secondary characters, some a development of characters from Mahabharata into new roles in an unearthly setting and others totally new ones. But most are not developed sufficiently for the reader to perceive them as real people. As a reader, I did not even root for the main characters as the casual nature of the narrative never really made me feel for them. All along my view was detached and impersonal at times even bordering on indifferent.
Overall I appreciate the author’s attempt to try something novel. As a fantasy buff, I really hope for development of fantasy genre in India and the author’s efforts in this direction is much appreciated. I would probably recommend this book to a romance reader looking to start on fantasy but not to a fantasy buff.