Archive for the ‘Historical Fiction’ Category


Hunt for The Great Mogul

Review of The Great Mogul; Rajeev Jacob; Lancer Books 2013; Rs 450; pp 222

– Tiya Joshi

Set in the 1700’s and the present day, the story is about an Indian diamond, The Great Mogul, bigger than the Kohinoor, its disappearance and the fortunes and misfortunes of the people whose lives are woven around it and the modern day couple who’s trying to trace its history.

The book starts with the laments of a British poetess on her impending wedding estranged from her lover. Very abruptly, the next chapter the reader is subjected to the thoughts of a man who is being taken for execution for thievery in India – tied and hung upside down and hence is being forced to a view of horses’ “manhood” from where he is tied. Definitely not what I would call a compelling start of a book.

It requires quite an effort to read past the first 10 or so pages of the book. Each chapter of the book is small and either told by a character or a third person. This frequent jumps hinders it from being a smooth read. The writing style definitely needs a taut editing and one just has to flip to the end of the book to the epilogue to realise that.

A commendable aspect is that the writer managed to incorporate many of the major historical south Indian cities and areas into the plot.



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Rating: 5.3/10 (15 votes cast)

Bent, But Not Broken

Review of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap; Paulette Mahurin; Blue Palm Press 2012; pp 202

– Shana Susan Ninan

Paulette Mahurin’s first book The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap is as much about Mildred’s and her cousin Edra’s persecution at the hands of the townsfolk as it is about the human emotions of love, repressed hate, hypocrisy, anger, jealousy and tolerance. Following the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment after being found guilty of “gross indecency”, or in plain terms, for being in love with another man, small town Red River Pass is bustling with fresh gossip.

Mildred, with a manly physique and appearance, doesn’t fail to attract unwanted attention whenever she’s in town. In fact, if she keeps away from town for a couple of days, the gossipmongers come up with reasons conjured up for her absence – everything from a dreaded disease to a sure-shot pregnancy! But Mildred’s a kind soul, and with her entrepreneurial father having left her a large house, several town buildings and a ranch, she has plenty to give around. From writing off loans to helping families in crisis, she’s always there to lend a hand.

Her secret relationship with her cousin Edra is about to be discovered, and they have to do something quick in order to divert attention.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (6 votes cast)

St Thomas’s Spy Hunter

Review of Spy Island; Sophie Schiller; pp 327

– Shana Susan Ninan

With a story that spans Panama and the Danish colony island St Thomas in the Caribbean, a smattering of local West Indian characters, and most of all an inquisitive spy-hunting 16-year-old, Sophie Schiller’s Spy Island is a promising read.

Abby Maduro’s life takes a turn when her parents die in an accident, and is forced to leave home and find shelter with her only relative – Aunt Esther, a rather boring and eccentric person, given to her own fancies. Abby’s only true friend is Nana Jane, the coloured housekeeper and nanny since her father’s childhood. Nana Jane is sweet and compassionate and always full of comforting words and verses from the Bible. Her island Creole is interesting, the culture and lifestyle of the island coming through well through them.

The girl bumps into a U-boat deserter in a Synagogue, goes ahead in believing his lost-at-sea story, and decides to help him by putting him up in Aunt Esther’s basement. Aunt Esther on her part hates company of any sort, let alone a man in the house! Abby’s life then is filled with exciting events, with her in the middle of them all.

A German officer she met on her journey to the island still haunts her. He’s the German Consul at St Thomas, and the unofficial head of a spy ring. He hopes to rope in Erich the war deserter and make him scapegoat for untoward incidents that happen on Transfer Day. More than half the island’s population is against the transfer of the islands to America. But the Great War makes things difficult for everyone. The ending is beautifully written, sort of an anti-climax to a romance novel. I loved it.

The conversations are very genuine, and Schiller’s words makes it almost real for us, as though we hear them as they are spoken, between the characters in the book. The story is quite a plausible one, too, as the author mentions in a note at the end.

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Rating: 7.8/10 (4 votes cast)

Cold and Chilling, The World Is

Review of Winter Of The World; Ken Follett; Penguin 2012; Rs 399; pp 940

– Shana Susan Ninan

If Fall of Giants was the foundation of Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy, Winter Of The World forms a strong platform where the characters have grown, and events have shaped their lives – for good and bad – and of course, the world has been through another war. This fiction novel, the second in the series, takes the readers to the next generation of people – from Russia and Germany to Wales and America. The master storytellers weaves his work with poise and acumen, often making the reader feel she is in the thick of things – whether it’s a riot on a German street, or a ruthless killing in a concentration camp. Follett’s carefully worded pages evokes many memories of the WWII, for those who have fought in it, and anguish and fear for those who’ve only read about it.

After the First World War is over, and the Great Depression is at a peak, the Germans are waiting for a saviour to help them up from the dumps. Hitler arrives at the scene, promising to vanquish the enemies and save his fatherland from poverty and unemployment. In the process, he also undertakes to kill Jews, who are wealthier and more successful than the Germans, and to make sure that non-Aryans and coloured people are fatally dealt with. Ken touches upon the dictator’s atrocities where he terminates handicapped people, old men and women, and all those who are a burden to the country, requiring much money in medicines and care.

The war changes the lives of the five-interrelated families. The Dewar sons pursue their own dreams, one joins the navy and the other is caught in the middle of it. Having come to America, Lev Peshkov reaches several heights die to his terrible ruthlessness and steady and bullish perseverance. That he does so by neutralising his foes and peers is another matter. But he gets a dose of his own medicine when he realises his ambitious son Greg Peshkov following in his footsteps!

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Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)

Living A Lie, Gracefully

About the Book

The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain’s recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde’s conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing.

About the Author

Paulette Mahurin, an award-winning author, is a Nurse Practitioner who lives in Ojai, California with her husband Terry and their two dogs–Max and Bella. She practices women’s health in a rural clinic and writes in her spare time.

Paulette Mahurin’s first novel is surefooted and unflinching in its portrayal of a singular and unique character and her compelling struggles. Compassionate and confident, Mahurin allows Mildred’s story to burn through onto the page with all its inherent outrage and tenacious, abiding love. Here is a character we can champion—flawed, striving, surviving— and fully embrace in her awkward, beautiful navigation of a world that resists her in every way.”      Deb Norton, Playwright/screenwriter of The Whole Banana

If you need to question your values, read this book! The author captures the intolerance and hypocrisy of a 1895 Nevada town, and its transcendence in time through tolerance and understanding.  The angst and pain that two women feel daily, living the ‘lie’ of their lesbian relationship, and the prejudice they must endure, is unconscionable.  I was moved to tears by their struggle in the face of the conflicted values that continue to dominate our ‘modern’ society.”               William K. Fox, PhD, Professor of Zoology

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Rating: 10.0/10 (5 votes cast)

Living The Legend’s Life – Of Love, Lust and Letting Go

Review of The Legend of Amrapali-An Enchanting Saga Buried Within The Sands of Time; Anurag Anand; Shrishti Publishers and Distributors 2012; Rs 200; pp 213

– Shana Susan Ninan

The bold golden lettering of the word ‘Amrapali’ and the danseuse herself (in this case, the picture of Mallika Sarabai) stares out at you. The character of Amrapali in the book is drawn out strongly. Anurag Anand brings in the historical angle with a twist – Amrapali is the chosen Nagarvadhu alright, but she has her own terms, and the characters involved in the tale are new, too, to a certain extent.

This is Anurag’s third book, and does him well. The Legend of Amrapali starts with an author’s note, introducing the topic of nagarvadhu, how Anurag came to write this story and his inspirations. Amrapali’s parents were childless and the discovery of this tiny baby beneath the Mango tree’s shade only added to their joy. She grows up to be brilliant, smart and much more intellectually developed than girls her age. Pali was good at dance and music and also in subjects such as Mathematics, battle strategies and archery – topics that only the males dwelt upon, in that era.

Growing up to be a beautiful maiden, she sets heartbeats racing across her villages. People from near and far heard about her. Despite several marriage proposals, her father doesn’t give her away. Having lost his wife earlier, Pali was the last possession he had. But as fate would have it, the devious king of Vaishali lusts after her, stopping at nothing to get to her. He resorts to evil methods to make her his own. And just when Pali is about to be married off to her childhood love, the king announces Pali’s induction as the city’s courtesan, a title which grants access to her at all times. She is forced to accept it, but not without her conditions.

Life isn’t the same, but she strives on. With a trusted friend and loyal guards, she sets out to mete out justice to herself and to the city of Vaishali. The ending is a worthy tribute to one the greatest legends of Indian history. Anurag’s prose is notable.

Amrapali’s expertise in various arts, especially dance, is fortified in the sentences, but I wish Anurag had explained her dance performances with a little more vigour. Right now the reader is left to imagine after a couple of lines of praise and adoration by the author for the danseuse. Let your words lead the reader to imagine further, not right from the beginning of the portrayal of a particular event.

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Rating: 8.3/10 (6 votes cast)

“Chanakya’s Chant is not about educating my reader; it’s entirely about entertaining my reader.”

– Shana Susan Ninan

Ashwin Sanghi “talks” to Indian Book Reviews in an email interview. He’s the bestselling author of The Rozabal Line and the recently-released Chanakya’s Chant. And, he’s in the process of giving us a third thriller! Here goes…

IBR – You’ve said that you enjoy writing about complex characters, Chanakya for one. How do you go about making a complex character understood by your readers?

AS – There are many who believe that character is supreme. At the risk of being labeled a Philistine for my views, I must say that I respectfully disagree. I hold the view that the plot drives character, particularly for my genre of writing. What makes a reader want to turn the page? Beautiful and sensitive character development or an unexpected twist in the story? I believe it’s the latter, not the former. I’m a commercial paperback fiction writer with no lofty claims to literary merit.There’s the old adage that “actions speak louder than words” right? In the world of thriller-writing, what the adage means is that if you make your characters do and say the right (or wrong!) things, character development happens automatically without any specific intent on the author’s part. This allows the writer to define the characters by their actions and words rather than by injecting the author’s voice into the mix.

IBR – Who do you write for? Yourself or the reader?

AS – I would like to say “for myself” but that would be a lie. The job of a commercial fiction writer is to spin an interesting tale for the reader. The primary objective has to be to entertain and captivate one’s readers. What’s the point if the author liked his work but his readers didn’t?

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Rating: 6.4/10 (12 votes cast)

The People That Went To War

Review of Fall Of Giants – Ken Follett; Pan Macmillan October 2010; Rs 350; pp 851

– Shana Susan Ninan

Most of us flew through our ninth standard in school without actually taking in the severity of the First World War. It was not just the first largest war that involved numerous nations – directly and indirectly – it included a gamut of people’s lives, emotions, loves and hatred. It carried with it the obstinacy of the old generation to declare war and the fears of the next that they might have to fight another one soon.

Master crafter Ken Follett’s Fall Of Giants is a poignant, well-narrated novel that traces the events in Europe, Russia, the US and other nations that led up to the WWI and thereafter.

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Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)

“Shiva is the most appealing God for the modern man.”

By Shana Susan Ninan

Amish Tripathi, author of The Immortals Of Meluha, is a lover of history and historical books. His other job – the bread-wining one – is as the National Head for Marketing and Product Management, IDBI Fortis Life Insurance. His debut novel was an instant hit and is a national bestseller now. This bubbly author speaks:

How does it feel to have just published your debut novel?

Shocked and surprised! I’d never written anything in my life. Except a try at poetry that was universally disliked by the few who read it. I was more into sports and singing in school and college. The only ‘creative’ thing I did was when I was the singer for our band, Baro C, in IIM-C. The English band was called Joka Bandstand, after one of the bus-stops near our Institute. Ours was called Baro C, after the bus plying on that route.

How did The Immortals Of Meluha take shape?

There’s an interesting story on how The Immortals Of Meluha came to be.

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Rating: 9.2/10 (12 votes cast)

Humanising The Shiva

The Immortals of Meluha, Amish Tripathi; Tara Press; Rs 295; pp 398

By Shana Susan Ninan

He breathes. He eats. He curses. He cries. He lusts. And he does just about everything else that any normal 20-something man does. Amish Tripathi’s captivating debut novel, a mythological fiction at that, The Immortals Of Meluha, set in 1900BC, is about Shiva and how he became a god. He’s a tribal immigrant in Meluha, the people of which have been waiting for centuries for the Neelkanth, their saviour.

The book, first in the Shiva Trilogy, charts out Shiva’s life as a Guna tribe leader from the time he leaves his war-mongering homeland near the Mansarovar Lake till he leads the Meluhans into a successful war. There’s the Suryavanshis on one side. They are the descendants of Lord Ram, living in Meluha, the almost perfect empire created by Ram himself. The people here are obsessed with hygiene and are masters in the field of town planning, medicine and warfare. And then there’s Chandravanshis, beyond the Yamuna, who are followers of the moon. They are the exact opposite: lovers of all things dandy, whether it’s the orange walls of their houses or the unscrupulous goings-on of its people.

The battle between the two peoples is compared to the one between the Asuras and Deva, and the ever raging one between good and evil. The Meluhans have many perils to deal with – Chandravanshis are supposedly conducting hit-and-run terror attacks on them with the aid of the cursed Nagas. One of the ingredients of the Somras (drink of the gods), the waters of the sacred Saraswati, is drying up.

The Somras is given to all immigrants on entry into Meluha. And on drinking his share, Shiva’s throat turns blue, among other developments. At first Shiva refuses to accept his destiny – he has his own demons to battle. This “simple Tibetan tribal”, as the story gathers momentum and Meluhans, the faith, turns out to be the Messiah of Meluha. Shiva is drawn to take up the challenge more so because of a childhood incident where he didn’t do anything to help a pleading lady than because of his belief that he was the Neelkanth.

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Rating: 8.5/10 (14 votes cast)