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Book Review: The Underworld King by Ranjit More (Series, #1)

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

A Hindu god holding a sword and staring at a lizard.Summary:
Drumila, four-armed king of the daityas, seeks to take them above ground to escape their enemy the naagas, giant flame-breathing serpents.  Meanwhile, Krishna (the highest-ranking god) sends his daughter, Nandini, to Earth in human form to weaken Drumila and keep him from crossing the barrier from Earth into the higher plains.  Unfortunately, Nandini ends up liking Drumila a bit more than they bargained for.

Review:
I was excited to have a fantasy based in a non-European mythology submitted to me, and wow is this different from the typical European-based fantasy.  In a good way.  This is a dense, different fantasy with a strong learning curve unless the reader is already very familiar with Hinduism.

The basic story reads just like mythology.  This has pros and cons.  On the plus side, it feels quite fantastical.  On the minus side, some of the plot points can be cringe-worthy (such as an unwanted kiss that could have turned into a rape if the female character hadn’t suddenly 180ed from zero interest to desire) and the characters can be a bit two-dimensional.  This will bother some readers, but those who enjoy mythology, in spite of its shortcomings, will appreciate this read.  Personally, I generally prefer if authors update and modernize their mythological rewritings a bit more, but not all readers feel that way.

The author is well-aware that Hindu mythology won’t be familiar to many Western readers, so he offers an extensive footnotes that are well hyperlinked in the ebook that explain both definitions of words and various aspects of Hindu mythology.  This means that the reader learns a lot but it does also slow down the reading of the book and breaks up the immersion in the world.  The footnotes are a good idea but perhaps if some of the words and concepts were better incorporated and explained within the writing itself then there could be fewer footnotes that offered greater explanations of more value.

The ending is a bit abrupt.  It’s clear this is intended to be the first book in a series, but an extremely abrupt ending like this one makes it difficult to feel like the reader got a full book out of the deal.  It feels more like the pilot of a tv show than the first book in a series.

I would give this book a more full review, but it has been pulled from publication since the review copy was sent to me.  I really wish when authors and/or publishers choose to do this that they would notify those of us with review copies.  While I enjoyed the read enough to not regret reading it, it feels rather silly for me to bother reviewing a book no one else can get their hands on anymore.

Overall, this is a fantasy book set firmly in the tradition of Hindu mythology that will best appeal to readers who enjoy the traditional features of mythology and don’t mind an abrupt ending.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron (Audiobook narrated by Steven Crossley)

Building in front of a mountain.Summary:
After the death of his mother, who also was his last living family member, Colin set out on a journey to the mountain of Kailas in Tibet.  The mountain is holy to both Hindus and Buddhists and is closely associated with the process of dying and crossing over.  Through his eyes we see the people of Tibet and his emotional journey.

Review:
I am not sure if words can describe what an epic miss this book was for me.  The combination of British western eyes othering Tibetans, an entire chapter dedicated to his father’s big game hunting, a surprising lack of emotional processing of death, and the *shudders* British accented narrator imitating Indian and Tibetan accents…..oh god.  It was painful.

I see nothing wrong with a Western person traveling and appreciating something revered in another culture.  If it is done right, it can be a beautiful thing. A lesson in how we are all different and yet the same.  Yet through Colin’s eyes I felt as if I was very uncomfortably inhabiting the shoes of a colonizing douchebag.  Perhaps part of it was the narration style of Crossley, but it felt as if Colin was judging and caricaturing all of the Tibetans and Indians he met.  There was so little empathy from someone supposedly on this journey to deal with death of loved ones.  You’d expect more from him.  I could accept this perspective more if either Colin learned over the course of the trip or this was an older memoir, but neither is true!  This is a recent memoir, and Colin is the exact same self-centered prick he was when he went in.

Similarly, Colin when he is not othering the Tibetans and Indians is either reminiscing joyfully on his father’s exploits as a big game hunter and basically colonizing douche in India or giving us a history lesson in Hinduism and Buddhism.  Ok?  But he’s not an expert in these religions and also that was not the point of the book?  A few explanations here and there, sure, but if I wanted to learn about Buddhism or Hinduism, I sure wouldn’t be getting it from a travel memoir from an old British dude.  I’m just saying.

Overall, this is an incredibly odd book.  It is a book out of time that feels as if it should have been written by an understandably backward gentleman traveler in the early 1900s, not by a modern man.  I honestly cannot recommend it to anyone.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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