Let me start by stating the obvious.
The Guardians of the Halahala is unlike any book you have read in the Indian historical fiction genre till date. The beginning of a trilogy, it effortlessly combines religion, legend, history and even one of the most iconic characters from our fables, bringing a unique perspective to their story.
It all begins with one of Lord Shiva's most iconic moments - one that requires not just the devas and asuras but also Lord Vishnu to work beside each other. The churning of the Ocean of milk to attain the nectar of immortality (Amrit) first produces something else though - the deadly Halahala poison, which is swallowed whole by Lord Shiva as per mythology.
Only that is not entirely accurate. A small portion of the Halahala was in fact siphoned away by an alert asura who hides it within an object. When Shiva finally gets his hands on it, he is faced with a conundrum - neither does he wish to retain possession of the object, nor does he trust the devas or asuras where safekeeping of such a potentially dangerous weapon capable of mass destruction is concerned.
The one he finally chooses is no deva or asura but a mere mortal - Chandragupta Vikramaditya, the king of Avanti, aided by his Navaratnas, the nine 'gems' of his court. Vikramaditya will find out that being the titular Guardian of the Halahala is not nearly as simple as concealing the destructive object as he becomes the centre of attention not just of his mortal enemies but also the devas and asuras.
What stood out for me in this book?
1. Attention to detail.
That is essential in any novel but almost paramount when you endeavour to write historical fiction because the characters already exist in some form in the minds of the reader, unlike unique new characters we create in normal fiction. And that is where Shatrujeet Nath shows his class. Each character is immaculately fleshed out and precise thought is given to world building for a larger narrative. There is a map at the beginning to visualise the world you are entering and a glossary at the end to aid you in knowing places and people from history who grace the storyline.