Book review: The Guardians of the Halahala by Shatrujeet Nath

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan

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.

review Godyears bookIt 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.

2. Characterisation
In a good story, the characters are never easily defined as good and evil. Never is that more apparent than here as you get to see the various shades of morality depicted in the Gods and demons alike, both in a race to get this deadly power for their own selfish reasons. Vikramaditya and his loyal posse will win your heart as they stand out here - fighting the just fight against odds that on paper should be stacked heavily against them (Avanti vs the devas,asuras, Huns et al... gulp!). Even the Lord Shiva you meet is very different from what you imagined.

3. Pace
The author brings in the same frenetic energy from his previous book here. With so many characters at his disposal, he still does not allow things to slow down as he moves across scenarios and settings, making this a pure thriller for the reader as opposed to just a tale of historical fiction. The battle sequences too work brilliantly here as you can easily visualize them as you read.

4. Twists in the tale
The little twists and unexpected turns in the tale are essential to make the reader nod in appreciation. In a storyline of this magnitude, you need to have a few tricks in the bag to grant Vikramaditya the upper hand in his battle against the asuras and devas. Also look out for a face we are all familiar with as you traverse the 'transitional land between life and death.' That, and the utilisation of the character, is a mark of pure creativity.

5. Language
With his first book, Shatrujeet Neet had already shown that he knew how to tell a tale well. Here too, you do not need to worry as the same fluency and ease with language come into play. A big shout out to the editor too for a job well done here.

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the author’s first book “The Karachi Deception” and had found it to be one of the best spy thrillers by an Indian author. A part of me had been a little disappointed then when I had realised he was transitioning towards historical fiction because I really loved his style in the former genre and wanted more. I am happy to say that Shatrujeet Nath has made me a convert – this is an author who handles his devas, asuras and kings just as deftly and confidently as he had previously done with the various army men and spies across both sides of the border while executing “Project Abhimanyu” in his first book.

The Guardians of the Halahala (by Jaico Publishing) is a wonderful new world for you to enter – a thriller set in a world which seems familiar when you hear the names of the characters within it and yet will make you realise there is more to them as you get to know them.

I am going with a maximum rating of 5 out of 5 Appletinis for this book. Anyone who can successfully combine the energy of an action thriller while creating a new iteration of a world that we thought we knew deserves no less than that.

You can get your copy of The Guardians of the Halahala online at Amazon and Flipkart or find out why others think so highly of the book by reading their opinions at Goodreads.

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