Krishna Udayasankar’s Govinda Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo

~ 800 words


About the Author:

Krishna Udayasankar was born and brought up in India. As a child, she has lived in many cities all across India as well as in different continents such as Africa and Australia. She is a lawyer who holds a PhD in Strategic Management from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, as well as a graduate qualification in International Business and an Honors degree in Law from the National Law School of India University in Bangalore. She currently works as a Lecturer at Nanyang Business School and is also co-author on an International Business textbook. She lives in Singapore with her family, and this is her fantasy debut.

Official Blurb:
Aryavarta – the ancient realm of the noble. For generations, the Firstborn dynasty of scholar-sages, descendants of Vasishta Varuni and protectors of the Divine Order on earth, has dominated here. For just as long, the Angirasa family of Firewrights, weapon-makers to the kings and master inventors, has defied them. In the aftermath of the centuries-long conflict between the two orders, the once-united empire of Aryavarta lies splintered; a shadow of its former glorious self.

Now, the last Secret Keeper of the Firewrights is dead, killed by a violent hand, and the battle for supreme power in the empire is about to begin. As mighty powers hurtle towards a bloody conflict, Govinda Shauri, cowherd-turned-prince and now Commander of the armies of Dwaraka, must use all his cunning to counter deception and treachery if he is to protect his people and those whom he loves.

But who holds the key to the fantastic and startling knowledge of the Firewrights, which in the wrong hands will bring doom upon the empire? And does Govinda have it in him to confront the dark secrets of his past and discover the true meaning of being Arya, of being noble?

I have been a fan of history and mythology as long as I can remember, plus being born in India, I was exposed to a whole host of stories based on history and mythology. For most SFF readers in the subcontinent, their fascination begins when their grandmothers tell them about the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. These two epics are the cultural and mythological foundation in India as they deal with magic, heroes, and destiny. For me, the Mahabharata always held a special fascination as it had a vast character cast and almost all of their personalities displayed shades of grey.

The story introduces a land that is slowly decaying from within. The order of Firewrights has lead to the ruin of the Matsya kingdom. There has been a decades-long conflict between the Firewrights and the order of the Firstborn – a priestly order that leads various nations in matters of theology, politics and social structure. These two orders have been at loggerheads, and the various kingdoms are allied either in support of or against the Firewrights.

However in the recent past things have take a drastically bad turn for the Firewrights and many of their members are dead. The book’s story begins with the murder of Ghora Angirasa (the head of the Firewrights) that upsets many a calculated plan and leads to beginning of the story with Govinda Shauri. Govinda is one of the crown princes of the Vrishini clan and of the Yadu kingdom. Many consider him to be an enigma. He has led his people from their origins in Mathura to a new city called Dwarka on the Western boundary of Aryavarta.
Panchali is the princess of the Panchala kingdom who are a force to reckon with and her marriage complicate relations between neighboring kingdoms.

This book takes the bones of the Mahabharata saga and then weaves it away from its magical, divine entity roots and makes it out to be a socio-political saga that makes this debut book very interesting and even so for those (like myself) who have a good idea about what to expect. It’s a retelling of the Mahabharata but stripping it away from all its Gods, Magic and poetry. This is a story purely focused on the socio-political structure of the land and the characters that are presented as human beings with agendas of their own.

This was the first terrific thing about the novel that it does away completely with the divinity of the characters and makes out to be real human beings, who are as confused, conflicted and complex as the rest of us. This allows for newer turns in the story. The author explores character-relationships in a manner that readers may not have seen before.

The author’s prose was also another positive point. She paints a world that is foreign and a bit different than what most readers have come to expect in the epic fantasy genre. She does it smoothly; it does not seem like an info-dump. The world setting, as well as the political structure, are very effectively described. Since this story is focused on the socio-political structure of Aryavarta, it’s description was a very important component of the story. This makes the ongoing conflict easy to understand.

The characterization is also another plus point as the author presents a complex story with a multi-POV structure and with many characters vastly different from those presented in the original texts. This aspect not only created intrigue but also had me guessing at to what would happen next. The story takes quite some twists as the character-relationships are markedly different from those presented in the original version of the story.
I think this book will be a good surprise to most readers, however, those looking for an interpretation closer to the canonical story might not find it here and might be disappointed.

This book completely blew me away. I consider myself to be well acquainted with the Mahabharata as I have read the original work as well as the other books about it (such as Mrityunjay, Parva, Yajnaseni, and those by C.R. Rajagopalachari, C. Divakaruni, etc), yet I was completely enthralled by the story as I was constantly kept a bit askew by the story’s turns and twists.

This is a complex retelling of a terrific story and is highly recommended for all readers who want something different from the usual pseudo-European fantasy fare.

The Mahabharata is said to be an ocean of stories, which is ever expanding. Krishna Udayasankar has just added a huge dollop to it that enriches the complexity of the story even more.

Reviewer Bio: Mihir Wanchoo is a physician and a Masters graduate born and raised in Mumbai, India. He is an avid book collector and longtime reader of fantasy, thrillers and Indian mythology with additional interests in historical fiction and urban fantasy.

His favorite writers include Jeffrey Deaver, John Connolly, Douglas Preston, David Gemmell, Sarah Ash, George R.R. Martin, James Clemens/James Rollins, Jim Butcher, Ilona Andrews, Tad Williams and many others.

Mihir is also a diehard fan of the Indian Cricket team and Chelsea Football Club. Mihir currently lives in Buffalo with his patient and loving wife, and is ever looking forward to discovering new authors and old books. Mihir can be contacted directly at Goodreads.

This review was originally published here: Fantasy Book Critic.

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