Fiction

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Book Review – Tanzeem by Mukul Deva

Published February 9, 2017 by vishalvkale

The one I missed… this is a book I read more than a couple of years ago, and forgot to review it then. As luck would have it, I dug deep into my pitaaraa two days ago, and thought of re-reading this one to check up on how exactly Iqbal ended up. The immediate stimulus was a twitter conversation with the Author himself. And so it was that I found that this excellent book was spared my attention in the list of books reviewed, which is a real pity; I would rate this as being among the Author’s very best. If any of you haven’t already read it – do so; you will not regret it.
THE PLOT
Image result for tanzeem mukul devaThis is the 4th book of the Lashkar series; and this one is all about Iqbal from start to finish. A shattered Iqbal comes out of Blowback with hatred and revenge the only two alternating emotions in his heart; a heart burning with one desire, and one desire alone. And a mind filled with alternating thoughts of Tanaz, and the man / men who were ultimately responsible for her condition… the combination of the mind and the heart propels Iqbal towards his goal, his purpose, and gives him resolve. And his resolve, his goal? The destruction of the entire people behind the most sordid Saga of his life.
Alongside this overpowering emotional state, is the realization that his personal enemies are also his national enemies; the patriot in him does not lose sight of this reality. He is keenly aware that something big is being planned by the Pakistanis and the terror machine; only this time – he wants to go after them alone. The current book is that story – the story of his infiltration into the vicious terror machine. The entire book is built around this one theme…
THE REVIEW
As is usual for a Mukul Deva book, this is, once again, a hurtling, breakneck speed and incredibly fast-paced story, written in his signature style. And, again as usual, this story is also completely unique in every respect; different from Lashkar, or Salim Must Die, or even Blowback in this very series itself; to say nothing of the other fiction titles of this author. And as a tribute to his skills, let me add that despite this complete difference in the books of the series, the books represent and make one complete fully connected story; the story of Iqbal. For that is what the Lashkar series is all about – the story of one man, one incredible man – Iqbal.
There are two or three things that need to be highlighted in this story. The first aspect is the shocking attention to the scenes of brutality,  including torture – the attention to detail as well as the way they are woven into the story so as to make them not just integral to the story, but also central to carrying the story forward. The second aspect is the graphic descriptions and narrative style that is used to  both capture your attention and build up speed and tension. The beauty is that the story doesn’t lose out on the pace due to the graphic details included.
The third, and as per me, the most critical aspect of this book is the history lesson that it tried to create for the reader. The entire 44 page section dealing with the Ameer’s flashback tells a history lesson that achieves two objectives : firstly, it creates a complete character sketch in the readers’ minds of the principle antagonist,  taking you deep into his psyche and behaviour. Secondly, It uses contemporary history which is certain to capture the attention of the target audience, which is largely Indian; and gives what I regard as a history lesson {almost – let us not lose sight that this is a work of fiction. That said, I took the trouble of cross-checking some 6-8 facts in this section – turned out completely accurate in every respect} in the background to the Af-Pak regions’ headlong rush into disaster.
It also makes for a slightly emotional read for us Indians, as this “aid” to Pakistan was diverted towards fighting India. You could feel a tinge of stunned shock at the clear US stupidity of acceding to Zia’s demand for what tantamounted to unrestrained control of the aid package. Anyone with even a small tiny iota of intelligence should have known that this would be diverted to fighting India! But let us move on… I hope now at least the great USA realizes is folly, its stupid and naïve support of Pakistan through – aah –  aid! This does not make for an easy read for a Western reader; the USA has been, quite literally, taken apart for its role in Af-Pak, as has Russia and its role. This is not a novel that projects either in a positive light; by and large. Even in the climax, it forcefully underscores the USA’s shortcomings, as it is the Indian forces who are in complete control of the operation.
To summarise, this book once again rates an easy 5 stars out of 5. And, as you turn the last page, you realize with more than a tinge of regret that this is the last time you are reading of Iqbal, and of Force 22. I still believe there is a scope of a couple more based on Iqbal; and I am certain that the author can build a new series around Force 22, making them a series as avidly followed as Lashkar was, and the current Ravinder Singh Gill series is. There is tremendous potential for these two story ideas; I hope Mr Deva is reading these words… 

Book Review : Pound Of Flesh by Mukul Deva

Published February 1, 2017 by vishalvkale

The master of thrillers is back with another spellbinding and chilling story, as is his habit. And, again as per me {by now irritating for me, sorry Mukul Bhai}, with a completey different storyline, and a completely different narrative style. This is now getting quite cumbersome and irritating – with Mr Deva, you just cannot tell what the content is going to be, unlike other authors, for whom you can safely predict what the basic structure of the story will be. Not so with our master thriller writer, who manages to come out with a totally unpredictable story yet again!
 Image result for pound of flesh mukul deva
The Plot
Deceptively simple. A girl gets kidnapped, lets find her. And that, my very dear friends, in the beginning, the whole as well as the  the end of the story.  A simple {well, ok – maybe not quite so simple} chase for a damsel in distress!
The Twist
Now that is a different story. Oh boy-o-boy, is that a different matter altogether! I have half a mind to close the review right here, and leave you all befuddled and confused, – or maybe consumed by desire! Let me confuse the hell out of you some more now : there is, technically, no twist in the story whatsoever. None. Zilch. Nada. Cipher. Zero. The story is very predictable, verrrry predictable. But then, why do I have a subtitle called “twist” in the review? In my 143 reviews so far, I have never done this, isn’t it? Why then did I do this? {Find out for yourselves, trust me – stop reading at this point and move on}
Still with me? Ch, some people don’t listen to good advice. You have been warned. You see, there is a twist in the story. Yup, there is both no twist as well as a twist in the story – and that is the genius of Mukul Deva. This is a straightforward hunt story, a simple hunt for a girl, a lady. That is it. There is nothing else to the story, and this is a genre and story that has been told, dramatized and picturised innumerable times by innumerable authors; so much so that you would have thought that there is nothing else to tell in the story! But then, you probably did not reckon with the skill of this author.
Apparently, the missing girl is one of several who are missing, with no trace; but in the entire story, the focus is totally on that one girl, with zero complications for the most part. Instead of mixing up the story with embellishments that lead nowhere, the author has chosen to focus on one aspect, and one aspect only, with a single minded devotion and commitment. The story is littered with hints, a para at times with other missing girls; along with a side racket of organ trade. But the focus is completely on that one girl’s hunt.

And that is the twist- I told you, there is a twist and no twist  at the same time. {Spoiler Alert}. Again, you can tell this story from the focus of the hunter, or the hunted, or the villain; usually it is focused on the hunter, with strategically placed sections on what the hunted is going through. The Villain features in fillers only. Not so in this book; the entire focus is not on the girl at all; it is on the Villain, his options, problems, views, growing tension, responses. This is balanced out by the main protagonist, with the story of the hunt being interleaved with the scenes that are based on the Villain. The girl and her problems are the smallest section.
What this achieves is a near breakneck speed of narration, as tension builds up; the near complete vanishment {Oxfordy peepul, new word for you} of the girl builds tension in the reader as well. The pace is frankly frenetic, and the book unputdownable; you will read it in one reading flat. The entire story is told in the space of a couple of days, and there is little attempt at character building, beyond the basics. Your attention is kept riveted on the hunt, and the hunt only; you don’t get sidetracked by anything – not the other girls who are missing, or the organ racket – nothing. You at times feel that organ racket is unconnected, and that is another reason why the author has to be credited for sheer audacity and genius!
It all comes together in the last sections of the book, and then it hits home – there is not even one wasted paragraph in the entire script at all! This is one of the tightest, most well knit stories with flawless execution that I have read in a long time. Sure, it is a deep, dark novel – but the pace makes up for it. And the innovative climax, creating worry and tension in the readers’ minds through non-standard methods {yup, no guns-to-the-head for the girl here}! I would rate this book 4 stars out of 5, docking one star for the dark tonality. For other readers, this easily qualifies 5 stars!

Book Review : Saraswati’s Intelligence

Published January 29, 2017 by vishalvkale

SARASWATI’S INTELLIGENCE
Part 1 of the Kishkindha Chronicles
Author – Vamsee Juluri
A Word About The Publisher
This book is published by Westland Books, to whose products I was first exposed to 2-3 years ago; since then, I have been noting the consistently high quality of their products – both in terms of variety, content as well as external finishing. They have branded themselves through unmatched quality, and attained a level of performance and  a place for themselves in this highly competitive industry. Yet again, we get treated to an excellent book; keep up the good work, Team Westland!
THE PLOT
Image result for saraswati's intelligenceThe book is a work of fiction;  a very interesting, fascinating re-telling of a part of The Ramayan : The Story {fictionalized} of Lord Hanuman. This is the first part of a series; a series which focuses on Lord Hanuman {or someone so closely resembling Hanuman that there can be no doubt who the author is referring to}. This is an important distinction to make – as I connect up in the review portion. The series is around Kishkindha, the Kingdom of King Vali {Bali in the real history of The Ramayan}
The book describes an almost mesmerizing, fantastic and completely believable land of total peace {which one can readily equate to Satyug}; a land in which there is no bloodshed, no evil and total harmony. Fittingly, it becomes clear from literally the first page that the series describes the descent of humanity from that high and haloed perch. Again, this is in keeping with the established history of The Ramayan. The extrapolation from history to recreate that time has been superbly done, making for a really fascinating and captivating read.
The story starts from a young Hanuman {I will Jettison the word Lord, since the book refers to fictional characters, not the Lord Himself} playing with the elder Vali and Sugreev. It chronicles how Sugreev and Hanuman fall out of favour when they break the law of peace and bloodshed by pure accident; how they are banished from the society, and traces the path they take. It traces the coming of age of Hanuman, and how he starts to become the all-powerful hero that the Real Lord Hanuman is known to be. The parallels to the real story are near-flawless, and well executed.
The story revolves around the start of fighting in this peaceful land, as the noble people are overcome one by one, until they come face to face with the now-angry peaceful people of Kishkindha in the climax of this part of the series. The enemy is a primordial enemy, less cultured, less civilized, almost animalic in behaviour. It has a rather interesting take on Lord Ganesh {This is an assumption; the name may be coincidental – the further story will tell}; in the book, The Land of Ganesh is populated by Elephants; there is a take on Naraklok as well, with flesh-devouring birds, loosely represented by and named Jatayu. All in all, it contains every element of The Ramayan; and yet is sufficiently different to make it an original fiction story that is at best loosely based on historical events from our ancient history.
THE REVIEW
First things first : the book is a very interesting, mesmerizing and fascinating re-imagination of our history. The treatment of all characters is tender, well thought out, and does not incite any passions. Now this is a tremendous achievement, given that you are dealing with The Ramayan, a book that is closest to the heart of every Sanaatan Dharmi. Playing fiction with characters as real and powerful as Lord Hanuman, Goddess Saraswati etc is no joke; and the Author successfully manages to keep the two separate in our minds. These have powerful contemporary relevance to the modern follower of Sanaatan Dharm, wrongly called Hinduism, hence the tasteful, tender and logical treatment is welcome.
I have to admit – at no point did the book incite any objection or passion whatsoever, even from a person like me; an ardent reader of our ancient scriptures as well as history, and a devoted Sanaatani. Not only that, the book is written very well indeed from a novel or fiction perspective as well; it is a fast, rapid read, is fun and without any needless side-lines and twists. The author had of course, one powerful advantage – he had no need for detailed characterization, as he could simply build on public memory; this has been skillfully achieved.
The upshot of this, which I call a massive advantage {though Westland and Mr Juluri will differ, quite obviously} is that this is a book specifically targeted at the Sanaatani reader. If you are not a Sanaatan Dharm follower, then this book may not make much sense to you, or may not have much of a connect with you. Make of that what you will; that is my recommendation. The immediate connect the material has is due to the patkatha, the background which we can immediately  recognize. That this connect has been properly nurtured through a host of cultural clues and similarities is a tribute to the skill of the author, who has assiduously built an excellent story based on our cultural history
The biggest aspect of the book lies elsewhere; though this will be clear only to ardent readers of our ancient literature, people with a relatively deep reading of that ancient time. The re-imagination of that time is so logically done, so in keeping with what is stated in the historical literature, that one easily imagines that this is how it could have happened. The Ramayan clearly describes a far long gone time, almost pre-historic; there are many indications of that. And the re-imagination of that society, of the life through small hints, like how the Gadaa came into being seem very logical. This is what impresses deeply in this re-telling or re-imagination. All in all, rated 4 stars out of 5!

Book Review – Agniputr : When Agni First Spoke

Published October 6, 2016 by vishalvkale

BOOK REVIEW – AGNIPUTR : WHEN AGNI FIRST SPOKE
BY VADHAN

About the Author
IMG_3423Bommadevara Sai Chandravadhan, ‘Vadhan’ is in Transactional law practice, advising Indian MNCs on compliance frameworks for their business in India and ten other countries in North America, China, Asia Pacific and Europe. His company, Sand Legal Services Private Limited, is ranked amongst the top 20 compliance service providers in India and is recipient of two international awards. He writes novels, sometimes with poems in them and can sketch reasonably well. His first published book is Shatru, Kronikles Book-1… {Source : Bommadevara Sai Chandravadhan}
The Book – Agnuiputr
bookThe plot is an intriguing one spanning 6 decades in its entirely, starting with the disappearance of a person from a village in South India… a man who apparently gave up his life to protect the village and the people form a terrible evil force. His sacrifice succeeded only in holding and limiting the evil force to a large mansion, waiting either to be unlocked – or till it became powerful enough to grow out of its controls imposed by the sacrifice.
This sacrifice is known to one or two people – one of whom goes into politics. The owners of the mansion migrate from the village and settle in the cities, where one of them becomes a top lawyer. Complicating matters is a local scientist, on the payroll of one of India’s top research places, who investigates a strage phenomenon – and promptly disappears; but nor before alerting his superiors, who send a team to investigate – a team which walks straight into a massive political and lethal game of power and control, as rival forces fight – one to harness the force for self; the other set to destroy the force, for only he can…
The Review
The book is based on science-fiction plus science plus Indian Literary History plus Fantasy theme plus thriller genre, which is pretty unique, at least in my reading experience. And that is what makes this a fun read; this is from the first page, a riveting read not just because of its other parameters, but due to its newness and freshness. You have to suspend reality in some ways – but that happens automatically, as you are pulled into the intriguing concept right from the first page; this is a hold that lasts, and continues for the entire book.
It is a rapid, fast paced book which manages to hold interest throughout the length, without slipping on its pace anywhere. This is something we expect from a thriller, but the way this has been handled in this book is remarkable. At no point does disbelief come in, you are too engrossed to think  of the real world. And therein lies the real power of the book and the concept; this has been done in the way the plot has been entwined across multiple genres, and quite effortlessly.
The author has successfully married hardcore science, Indian History {I don’t consider it fictional – having read many ancient documents myself, so will not use the term mythology}, fantasy and science fiction is quite a treat, and has been effortlessly done. And the setting, the backdrop of the story being in politics and the Army has added a flavor of thrill to it. The race of the good and the evil has been set in contemporary settings, with plots and counter plots from both as each team tries to best the other.
The characters are sufficiently well-etched, with detailed background development of the principle characters involved, which is in keeping with their actions as the story unfolds. This is another strong point of the story – as the supporting case just has minimal and functional character development, which makes for a very nice and rounded story. Characters and their optimal development are central to writing great fiction – and here we have an author in full control of that faculty, and that is a definite plus.
That is the gel, the holding power : the plots and counter-plots, and the rather unique treatment of the central characters and the way they move from being a part of the evil team to the good, and succeed in fully supporting the family member of the mansion in his quest to stop the evil from overcoming all is frankly breathtakingly done, and very adroitly handled. That makes for not just rapid reading, it also pulls you further into the story as you are glued to the book, not wanting to give up or stop reading until you see what happens to the characters in the book.

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This also helps you in continuing to suspend your views and beliefs – which is critical in the enjoyment of the fantasy genre, wherein you have to perforce keep aside all known science almost! Quite simple, you are too absorbed in following the intriguing interplay among characters and the plot twists – which have nothing to do with either science or fantasy or fiction. In simple terms,  this a highly skillfully crafted book that deserves good shelfspace in retail as well as consumer interest both. 

Book Review – The Sialkot Saga

Published July 31, 2016 by vishalvkale

BOOK REVIEW : THE SIALKOT SAGA
BY ASHWIN SANGHI
Image result for the sialkot saga 
The Sialkot Saga is a story built around two scoundrels, two ruffians of the highest order – one masquerading as a gentleman, and the other openly rebellious and criminal. This is an ugly book, a hands on look at the ugly underbelly of life, a brutal no-holds-barred ugly account of greed, crime  -white collar as well as of the other kind, selfishness of a very high order, desire and naked ambition all rolled into one single story
THE CHARACTERS
Arvind Bagadia – Love him, you cant. Hate him, you can – and very very easily. Sympathise with him – negative, no way. Avoid him – impossible. The quintessential anti-hero
Arbaaz Sheikh – Love him – you cant; sympathise? Yes, in a manner of sorts. Tough guy, a man life has given a sour deal to start with – a man who chooses the wrong path in rebellion… and becomes, like Arvind, a complete bastard
Abdul Dada – Gansgter, Loves only money – and loyalty. And Arbaaz; but then Arbaaz has earned him bushelfuls of money, and with extreme loyalty too.
That’s it. This is a story of two characters – sure there are others, but they don’t matter except Abdul Dada. This is the story of two people and two people only, the rest are only fillers who take up space, flesh out the story and provide momentum and some form of continuity to this cleverly put-together story; beyond that, they have little import in the overall scenario and the story, neither do they have any large function to perform in furthering the story.
THE PLOT
There isn’t any; period. There is no coherent plot as it is commonly understood; that is not to state the book is bad – or it isn’t readable; it just has no plot. The plot is – in one line – the life story of two criminals – one a reprehensible conman who should be in jail for somewhere around 100000 years if our penal code and human lifespan allows; and the other a tragic story of a poor man from a poor family gone bad, and into big crime – a man who should be hanged, or at least put away for a very long time indeed.
People come and go, get used, but the story is nothing but a patchwork – a very skillfully and adroitly crafted patchwork of individual capers of two complete bastards. Sure, the book back uses the euphemism “businessmen of a kind” – make no mistake – you have a story of two people as completely evil as it has ever been the misfortune of mine to ever read in fiction print. Reprehensible and completely disgusting characters to the core.
THE ANALYSIS
First, the good. For a story that has no definable and clear plot line, this is a top book – eminently readable, fast paced and rapid. This is good for a read or two, or on a journey – and you  will not regret buying it, although the price-point is a tad on the higher side for a book of its quality – Rs. 350 just doesn’t quite justify the contents. I would plumb for a price-point of around Rs. 200 – 225; at that price – this is a good buy.
The author, despite not managing to craft powerful characters in this book, has nonetheless managed to deeply embed two of them in our minds, very skillfully creating the right atmosphere around each character. This is clearly by design – he has, it seems to me, consciously downplayed all for the benefit of the two {or three} main characters. The other characters merely accentuate the principal ones, and add to their background and character-graph.
The story is a patchwork on independent unconnected events spread across years and decades; this is not a book that you will miss putting down for a day, and would easily continue after a gap, missing nothing. There is precious little connectivity and continuity between events; you can even start in the middle somewhere on your second read, and would miss nothing. The biggest drawback in this is that you don’t really get a feel of the years passing, the timeline seems patchy. The plus is that this has been skillfully woven such that it isn’t a major irritant.
Of the two characters, you can readily sympathise with Arbaaz, given his background of penury, and the bullying he undergoes; but his response to the bullying – right from childhood – show his evil streak. His further deeds completely strip away any sympathy for him… Arvind – he just is pure evil, with no redeeming quality that I could relate to. He is one complete bastard, and that is that. This is a book that has no heroes, and no punishments for evil deeds and crime – crime pays here, and big time. That is my main grouse with this book – that is why I dock it two stars from the 3-3.5 it richly deserves, and rate it at 1 star or 1.5 stars tops. I don’t think we need such books that extoll these anti-heroes, but that is purely my opinion!

The main point about the book is complete incongruousness of the title, and its near-total lack of relevance to the real story, and a feeble attempt to link it to some ancient  stuff which has not been thought through properly and seems half-baked. The fact is that the story would have been equally good by entirely removing the whole sections of the ancient stuff, and the Sialkot connection. The story would have lost nothing, given that there is precisely zero relevance, in my opinion! 

Book Review : The Honest Season

Published July 17, 2016 by vishalvkale

BOOK REVIEW – THE HONEST SEASON
BY KOTA NEELIMA


Kota Neelima has been a journalist for 20 years and holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. She writes on politics, democratic reforms and issues concerning rural poor in India. She is Senior Research Fellow, South Asia Studies at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC. Neelima has written four books of fiction based on her exploration of Indian politics, her experience as a journalist as well as a researcher. Each book questions the accepted notions of politics and society and seeks to demarcate desperation of hopelessness and choice.
The current book under review is a political thriller, and it has to be said, it is completely different from any political thriler I have read; a book that is among the best I have read in fiction in any genre. This is a work of sheer class, and makes for a rollicking read. The most surprising aspect is that the author is not known for penning this genre, having her forte in an entirely different and niche class – that of rural India and farmer issues.
The Characters 
Mira Mouli – A Loner, highly perceptive, endowed with special powers, with a rather painful childhood, and an apparent air of complete detachment
Bidur Munshi  –  Apparently, a straight businessman focussed on meaningful news
Mahesh Bansi –  Political biggie {I mean biggie, earnestly}, with all its entrapments. Problem : A father as well. {Is it really a problem? Don’t ask me, read the book}
Sikander Bansi – Aah. The big one in the novel, surprise item on any number of parameters . A politician with a desire to expose all in politics, including father dearest.
Nalan Malik – Good guy. Neutral guy as well. And yes, before I forget, bad guy to boot. Who is is he? What is his motive?
The Plot
In one or two words : pure dynamite. A new member of parliament, and the son of a top biggie, fancies himself as something of a political commando of sorts, an Indian John Rambo albeit in the political arena; this chappie decides all by his lonesome that things ought to change. And, this delightful chappie firmly believes that charity starts at home, thus leading to taking on his own party, before, shall we say, graduating to more juicier targets {post-graduating? Mere graduate isnt enough of an “upadhi” for this bravado / smarts / cunning / foolhardiness methinks}
Now just revealing things obviously wouldn’t do it, now would it? So, this chappie decides to sort of become a jar of Vanishing Cream. Smart you’d say? Well, actually, not quite. This chappie / Vanishing Cream creates a doozy of a puzzle for one Journalist, our heroine, that trail of which may lead to his location. Now that, I respectfully submit, is plain stupid on the face of it; or is it? Why would Mr Vanishing Cream first expose through live tapes political skullduggery, then plot a trail right to his front door? Sounds crazy, at first, second as well as third glance. Why does he do it?
The Review
The book is not a particularly fast read; it is steady, deep and with intrigue; and has a slow build-up. That does not mean that it isnt exciting in the first 40-50 pages; to be fair, the book draws you in right from the first page. The first few pages are all about filling in the background, and getting the story to the main thrust; wherefrom the novel takes off. The good part is that the backdrop has been filled in not through boring details and prose, but through an enticing series of dialogue; interviews; flashback etc – all of which are highly relevant to the story.
The book reads almost like a whodunit, an intriguing plot line and development ensures reader interest throughout the book right till the epilogue. Pace has been sacrificed for the interest of plot development and story; this makes for a very fulfilling and relaxed read. Unlike other genres, this doesn’t move in fits and starts with staid sections intermixed with rapid sequences; it progresses at a steady, even pace, which is why due attention is given to nearly all aspects. This also means you have to pay attention; for a full understanding, you have to get the cues that are interspersed in the pages.
The Characterisation is spot-on, and gels completely with the story; the characters have been fleshed out very well, with sufficient background development and story. That is why the actions of each character seem completely reasonable, and almost expected from each. This tends to both move the story forward in some ways as well as enables an engaging read. Further, this approach has meant that the characters stay with you a long time afer you have finished reading; I can testify to that, as I read this book nearly 10 days ago – and can still recall the characters and their personalities and natures.
All in all, this is a book that is an excellent read, engaging & absorbing, with a plotline that is absolutely unique, hard-hitting and mind-blowing. The development of the plot has also done justice both to the stunning nature of the plot as well as to the real world; nothing comes across as forced or contrived; in fact, if anything, at more than one place you feel as though the sequence is highly plausible – so convincing is the narrative.

There aren’t very many negatives, none that I could spot at any rate. This is a book as close to perfection as it is possible for it to be given its genre. However, in the interest of fairness and plausibility, I must state that this is not for those who are into  1000 kms a second pace in fiction, as it were. If you don’t enjoy intrigue & complex machinations and prefer breakneck speed – avoid; this is not for you – especially given the pace waxes as wanes with the plot development. The only other point- the concept of Know Journalism, which I felt could have been developed more convincingly. That said, what is present is good enough, and has complete gel with the story… 

Book Review : 6 Degrees – Game Of Blogs

Published June 26, 2016 by vishalvkale

Game of Blogs was an initiative undertaken by Blogadda , wherein teams of bloggers were created, and tasked with crafting a story around a set of predefined characters. Each member had to write perforce, and the basics of each character were also laid out. It was an interesting exercise, challenging and productive, while being educative in writing fiction, team building in distributed teams and coordination. I was part of Team Supernova, who made the cut but not the prize…
THE CHARACTERS :
Shekhar Dutta – Stay home Dad, freelance writer, Hindu, Stays in Mumbai
French beard, bald, average height, fair, thin specs, lean, wears t-shirt & track pants generally, ever smiling.
Tara Dutta – Shekhar’s wife, Media professional , career oriented woman.
Fair, short hair, tall, prim & proper dressed, wear formals & high heels.
Roohi Dutta – 9 years girl, Shekhar and Tara’s daughter.
Fair, healthy, notorious, 2 ponytail, wear frill frocks.
Jennifer Joseph –  Photographer, Christian, Stays in Kochi (Kerala)
Dusky, average height, tattoo on right hand, wears casual shorts and tees, lots of accessories, always carries a camera.
Cyrus Daruwala – A law student, Stays in Delhi
Tall,  extremely fair, big specs, curly hair, stern face, beard on the  chin.
THE BOOK, AND WHY TO READ OR NOT TO READ
The book “6 Degrees” is a collection of the top 3 winning stories from competition. If you are looking for books from known names, avoid this; but if you are looking for excellent writing and engaging concepts, this is for you. The 3 stories are well crafted, and worth a read; despite  my individual opinion penned below. Only caveat is the cover price : at Rs. 349/- it is tad overpriced for new writers; but you can go for it nonetheless…
THE REVIEW
The back cover spells out the most engaging aspect : “The 3 stories in this book are a fascinating example of how one set of characters can have interesting lives with completely different dimensions”. I couldn’t put it any better than that myself. Bookaholics can read this just to see the wonder, depth and scope of human imagination, and the range the of possibilities that can be opened up with just the bare basics given above…
That apart, when you look at the fact that each story is a compilation of several authors working in tandem, one has to admire the teamwork, editing, continuity achieved, leaving no obvious gaps in the process; having been through it myself, I know it wasn’t easy getting the coordination right. This is the second major plus point of the book as I see it.
Of the 3 stories, the second – Entangled Lives – is by far and away, the best of the lot; it is a line of thought that could be developed into a book of its own. It is a rapid paced, well set-up and completely believable thriller, a page turner that will keep you glued to the pages, quite literally unputdownable. This was the only story I read in one go, such was its pull and authenticity. A chilling story and sensitive handling of the characters with a fast paced plot ensure reader interest.
I was disappointed with some aspects of this story, until I realised the constraints the teams operated under. These were distributed teams, with no guarantee that each member was equally committed; there wasn’t enough time, as well as other limitations, which meant proper fleshing out of the story, filling in plot background details, twists and turns was hard if not impossible. “Entangled Lives” scores on these as well, in addition to the para above. I will not spoil your fun – read it yourself to find out more about it!
Frankly, the other two stories pale in comparison – which does not mean that they did not deserve to win; just they weren’t as good, that is all.
The story I rate 2nd is “Missing – A Journey Within”. An excellent, nicely paced, and engaging story based on a missing girl – and the hunt for her, with a small twist thrown in; this a very  very different story, almost unique; full marks to the team of authors for imagination and out of the box thinking! It a fast and light read, and has clear potential as the seed of an interesting novel. Again, so different is the concept, that saying anything else would spoil your fun. Enjoy this very novel concept, with a clear message as well as an interesting twist. In fact, in some ways, this rivals the one above for its freshness and its light touch.
The last story, appearing first in the book, is “The Awakening”. To be completely honest, an outlandish concept, but one very much in vogue – an eclectic mix of Aliens plus Ancient secrets. These are both very much trending topics nowadays in the realm of fiction, so no surprise that this story got chosen, given that it has also been well crafted. My personal opinion notwithstanding, it is a good story, well paced and presented. The problem for me remains the overall concept, which to me is beyond my comprehension, in addition to lacking newness and freshness! That said, it is a good story – of that there is no doubt…

                                                                                      

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Book Review : Mumbai Avengers, S Hussain Zaidi

Published January 10, 2016 by vishalvkale

MUMBAI AVENGERS : S HUSSAIN ZAIDI

For the past 25 years and more, we have been facing the evil and duplicitous activities of Pakistani-supported terror groups, aided fully by Pakistan and its organisations. We have witnessed and withered many a murderous attack,  and paid a heavy price in blood, all for no fault of ours. In all the list of attacks we have suffered, no single attack holds as much relevance and importance to the national consciousness than the one that happened on the fateful date 26/11.

Mumbai stands as a beacon in India – it is the city of hope, and the personification of the spirit of struggle, hard work, innovation, and enterprise that is present in all Indians; it is to us Indians representative of something larger than what it is physically, and that is why an attack there was so hard hitting. It also attacked the centers that represented the new India-  the rising India, the India of Business, fast growth and great global prospects. That is why this attack was so important an event; almost a watershed. These people were trying to attack the ideal of new India…


 
The current book under review takes on from the feeling of deep hurt and helplessness in the people rising from this cataclysmic event , and goes on to craft a plot that seeks not revenge – but justice. The emotional connect it {the concept} made with me was immediate; it was an enticing and deeply engaging thought and concept, and was further written by one of the most accomplished non-fiction writers in the reality / underworld genre – S Hussain Zaidi.




THE PLOT
The plot is deceptively simple – go after the perpetrators, the planners of the 26/11 plot and bring them to justice, strike back at the monster and seek justice for the victims of the wanton murder and mayhem that happened from 26/11/2008 to 30/11/2008 in Mumbai, India. The book is, from the start to the finish,single-mindedly focussed on only one aspect : Justice. There are no subplots, no needless twists and turns, and no mandatory love angle anywhere. That is the beauty of the plot; it is a lovely taut narrative, completely focussed in its core task with no diversions at all.

The concept has been rolled out extremely well, and comes across as totally feasible and practical; that is its main power. The story starts with a presentation by a retired Army General with a proposal to hit back at Pakistan; one which immediately meets with scepticism and mistrust from the political powers that be. This General – Lt General Syed Waris Ali – is then approached by an old friend from his army days – now in RAW with a simple proposition : do it. But I don’t know you did it, and you don’t know or remember that I told you to do it.

That comes across as completely and devastatingly believable in the real world; this is further buttressed further on, when the team put together for the task needs help – which is denied initially, only to be given later after a public adulation of these national heroes : again, very plausible.  There is no jingoism, or one-man action scenes; instead, you see a team – or rather set of teams at work, fitting together and gelling together into one whole.

The General, after being assured of all help in every way being given by the friend, including his choice of personnel from the forces and intelligence community, then crafts together a multi-disciplinary team of hardcore professionals. These people, led by the very capable General Ali, then go about delivering justice – starting from locating their current location, selecting how to give justice, and then the deliverance. This forms the meat of the book as our heroes go out to achieve the impossible for the nation and the victims.

The rest of the book forms the hunt and the deliverance of justice; each hunt is different from the others, each is painstakingly planned out and plotted, executed with near-perfection as the kingpins of the plot start falling one after the other. This does not go unnoticed by the ISI, as well as the Chinese, who play a lovely double role, playing both sides efficiently as per their needs. This is what sets up the climax, as all the forces come together to try and prevent the final damage, and the biggest kingpin of the terror factory’s fall…

THE ANALYSIS
The book is not one of your rapid and blinding fast thrillers shooting your way through pages; this is an excellently crafted, carefully plotted suspense thriller. The narrative is sufficiently fast paced to keep your interest not only alive, but captivated; and yet, it is slow enough that the complexities of the hunt and the justice are fully developed. This is important, for this is not your average revenge book or spy thriller. The targets have to be taken out one by one, which means that ensuring zero suspicion on India or on the team is paramount.

That is the only way the plot can be carried forward logically, given the parameters of the operation, and given that this isn’t a commando style operation – which is anyway infeasible, as the targets are widely dispersed geographically. That is why the story has to be complex and yet plausible- which  it is in every way. The surgical precision of each strike is a thing of beauty, as is the part about the hunt for the target within the limitations imposed by the Government. And the way the story links effortlessly to the climax is excellent – and completely flawless.

The character development is as required by the storyline and the genre; effective; the characters are well etched and very well developed with bold strokes and strong personalities, as befits the task requirement. Each character is a flawless and effortless fit in this story; given the wide range of personalities and characters adopted, this is the most fabulous aspect of the book. Each character comes across  as believable, and, at times, reacts exactly as we would expect someone in the real world with a similar background or personality. This is realism at its best.

All in all, I rate it 5 stars out of 5, and as one of the best fiction thrillers to have been written  in Indian English. S Hussian Zaidi’s expertise in the genre of real crime is well known, {you can find three non-fiction works reviewed on my blog},  – this book is an added feather in his cap. The research done is extensive, and its shows. The book is a riveting read, has a powerful emotional trigger for Indians, as well as is crafted and put together very well indeed…

Book Review : The Secrets Of The Dark

Published November 2, 2015 by vishalvkale



BOOK REVIEW : THE SECRETS OF THE DARK
by ARKA CHAKRABARTI
Welcome to the mystical and mysterious land of Gaya, a land unlike any you will ever have encountered in your readings. This is a land of strife, of mystery, of intrigue, of politics, of East and West, of secrets, of prophecies and of an unrelenting hunt for the truth against all odds. This is the land, the land of Gaya, the Land where Agni is born and rises up to be a fine man, a man any mother would be justifiably and immensely proud to call her own. This is the story of Agni, a story unlike any you will ever have read… the story of a man prophesied to … fame… or is it infamy?
THE CHARACTERS :
Agni : Who is he? Evil, or Good? Destroyer, or Saviour? Whatever else he may be – this man doesn’t know the meaning of the word “give up”. He just doesn’t!
Vrish : Wish everyone had a friend like Vrish… doesn’t agree with Agni; but goes along all the same
Princess Lysandra : Women, fighter, Princess, Tough and Devoted. All of them in one grand package
Malini : Now why on earth would anyone kill someone who knows nothing?
Sir Drake : From the West, A Guest, Maybe a pest, Maybe a test, maybe a friend best… or maybe a quest… Me, I wont say – but will give you a test!
The Stranger : Now why should I tell, if he is a stranger? I mean, how can I?
THE PLOT
The plot revolves around the land of Gaya,  which is composed of two continents : the Land Of The Rising Sun, and The Land Of The Setting Sun.  The book primarily revolves around the Land Of The Rising Sun, and starts cryptically with the prophecy of a destroyer who will rise and rid the Land of Gaya from the scourge of Man.
The plot then abrupty changes course, and veers towards a King whose Son has to be saved; every son born to the King has been murdered by his enemies; the newly born seventh prince is sent away right at birth to the Land Of The Rising Sun…and thus starts the saga of Agni. Right at the start, Agni’s fiancé  is murdered brutally, setting of a hunt for the killer. The lady, before dying, draws a mysterious symbol  – and the hunt for the truth, in the absence of any evidence, starts off with the hunt for the meaning of this cryptic and unknown symbol.
THE ANALYSIS
First off, nothing I write hereon is going to take away from one basic fact : the book is unputdownable; a page-turner that will keep you engrossed right from the opening lines, till the last word on the last page. Credit where credit is due; the book is a good read, that much is granted. The pace is relentless, and the plot moves forward at a tremendous pace, which goes a long way towards hiding the negatives of the narrative.
The story unfolds effortlessly and is relatively easy to follow and get engrossed in; the quest for the mysterious symbol is well handled, and well fleshed out. The sub-plots connect with each other, and are interesting enough as well as off-beat, leading to continued interest throughout. The net result is the feeling of relentless pace and non-stop action as the story progresses without stagnating in any place. While not engrossing, the connect made with the reader is strong enough to ensure interest.
The characterisation is minimalistic in style and substance; the characters build up over the course of the book by inference and sequences in the story, rather than explicit definition. The upside is a slow build-up of a connect with the central characters; problem is that the method adopted leads to a lack of a strong enough connect with the characters, leading to a mild confusion and an amorphous impact when viewed in totality.
Part of the reason is the setting, which is of a mystical new land; the diverse sub-plots and the absence of full clarity impedes understanding of both the story as well as impedes the development of the characters. You just fail to connect with most; Agni is a notable exception, as is Vrish and Lysandra.  You develop  a strong mental image of these three central roles; all the rest are rather amorphous by comparison.
The second problem with this follow from the first : the entire story, its plots and sub-plots have been inadequately fleshed out in this, the first part of a series. This may be deliberate; we shall have to see the other books of the series; this is a distinct possibility, given the relatively clear definition achieved of Agni and Lysandra in particular, as well the overall handling of their sequences. The storyline is totally alien to us, and we just fail to make any connect whatsoever with the basic concept of Gaya; it would help a lot if the introductory chapters were more fleshed out. As things stand, you are exposed to the concept slowly, spread over the entire book. While the pace mitigates this; the overall effect could have been done much better, making this book a masterpiece, rather than just a good book. And the book is good : well worth a read, make no mistake.
I rate the book 3 stars out of 5, or rather 7 stars out of 10. Worth a read, that is true. Even a few days after the reading, I can still picturise Agni in my mind : that should be self-explanatory. But the questions remain, strong and ever-present, coupled with an insufficient understanding of the entire story. Maybe I ought to wait for the full story to come out; which is why I am not going into plot holes as I perceive them; maybe they will connect up in the later parts…. 

Book Review : The Rise Of The Grey Prince

Published March 10, 2015 by vishalvkale

THE SAGA OF AGNI

THE RISE OF THE GREY PRINCE

By Arka Chakrabarti : You can read more about the author on this link :  Interview


If you have read the first part :  4 stars. If you have not read it, 2.5 stars. That should tell the reader of this review all he or she needs to know.

Image result for the rise of the grey princeThe first time I picked it up I just could not make any sense out of it. It was all Greek and Latin to me; nothing made sense, and nothing connected to anything. The land portrayed was alien, the people were completely alien, the narrative connected to events of which I had no knowledge. I found myself constantly leaving through pages, going back and forth to make some sense out of it. And then, I almost gave up. And then, I re-read the most critical page – The Story So Far. 

It was a slow and tedious build-up, as the names and characters were totally unfamiliar; and the layout alien. But the concept- that was the puller; that was the attraction. The concept of a fantasy novel always has attraction – and if it is one that is well executed, and real and practically written – then it is a very attractive package…


THE PLOT
Had I read the first part, I could have enjoyed it fully. There is a link back in the book, with a short précis on what happened in the first part; but it does not suffice. It is badly penned and presented; there should have been attention to this vital aspect of the book. “The Story So Far” is the most critical section of the book, and needs urgent and immediate refurbishment. It only connected up slowly as I read the book; only then did things make sense. The learning is : have patience; this is a good book. It will connect up. 

The book is about a fictional land called Gaya, divided into two continents – The Land Of The Rising Sun, and The Land Of The Setting Sun. It focusses on the main protagonist : Prince Agni, his guru Sidak and his friend Vrish; alongside Prince Yani, in whose father’s care Agni grew up. 

The story revolves around The Abode Of Seven, a sort of oligopolistic dictatorship over The Land Of The Setting Sun. A seer has prophesied that a prince will take this down, which is what leads to all Princes being targeted. Agni’s father takes on  The Seven, and smuggles him out; Agni grows up in The Rising Sun, unaware of the reality. 

This is the backdrop of the story of the current book. This 2nd part focusses on Agni, Yani, Sidak and Vrish, as their lives intertwine as a result of the past, and through them the author tells the story of Agni returning to the Land of the Setting Sun, the place where it all began,, where Agni returns – to hunt for his mother; and to hunt for answers to the many questions in his mind. 

THE ANALYSIS
First, the “The Story So Far” section needs to be properly organised. Second, the start of the book should ideally give a list of characters and the basics of those characters, which is vital given the length of the story, and its complexity and number of characters. This is what some other authors have done; this helps in furthering the absorption of the material.

Charectarisation is not upto the mark; the characters have not been properly filled out in this book at least. This could of course be due to the fact that the character development happened in a previous book; in which case a small short but effective summary of each character on re-introduction becomes vital. As things stand, as the characters are not fleshed out and are in addition completely alien as well as in an alien or fantasy setting, they just do not register or impress. You do not make a connect with any character. 

The story is fast-paced, develops rapidly, and is enthralling once you get into the story, and begin to make a connect with it. This part has been properly handled, and this is what tells me that the story is worth reading. The key is getting clarity as to what happened in the book, as I clarified above. 

All in all, this is a very promising concept, and could be a top-notch fantasy thriller, if the points highlighted above are taken care of. The narrative is fast and interesting, the story has been handled well, and the concept is fascinating. All it requires is attention to detail, proper presentation, and properly fleshing out the story so that late comers can also connect; this will work in two ways. 

First, it will heighten enjoyment for readers of the entire series, as they will like as not have forgotten the contents of the previous book/s – and will thus serve as a reminder to them. Second, for newcomers, it will ensure that they understand the concept properly and will cut down negative reviews of the book. The current presentation does not meet the mark; that apart – all else is great. Should you buy into the series? If you are into fiction, then no reason why you shouldn’t; the concept is fascinating.