Sons Of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty (reviewed by Matthew Higgins)

Order Sons Of Darkness over HERE
 
Disclaimer: I did receive an ARC from
Head of Zeus however this has in no way influenced my review
 
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Sons Of Darkness is a game changer.
 
If any reader is aware of Indian history
and mythology, they will know of the embarrassment of untapped riches awaiting
fantasy readers. We in the west are yet to rediscover some of the greatest
stories in human history.
 
It is Mr Mohanty’s unenviable challenge to bring
us along this journey and scale the heights of the legendary Mahabharata. With
great aplomb, Mohanty thrusts the reader into a dark and enticing political
landscape.
 
Krishna, the name perhaps most familiar to
western audiences, is a farm boy risen to rebellion, and now ruler of the
Mathuran republic. The former ruler of these lands, the Magadhan monarch, is
very visibly unhappy at such a loss, especially when one considers his secretive
general’s tactics of catapulting disease-ridden carcasses over the supposedly
impenetrable walls of Mathura.
 
Have I caught your attention yet? Because
Mr Mohanty certainly does.
 
This is a world where myth and history collide;
of pirate princesses and sadistic torturers; of 
Greeks and giants; bloodshed amidst corruptive power.
 
Early on readers must stick with Mohanty as
he pulls you into events in media res, a la Malazan. There will be lots of new
words, names, and kingdoms to explore, along with some fascinating concepts of
Vedic spirituality.  With Mohanty’s
trademark wit to entertain us, this is a journey into the dark, in a world one could
easily lose themselves within.

As we slowly find our feet, characters from the rich tapestry of the Mahabharata are woven into the narrative. However, this is no mere retelling, for it is in fact a grand reimagining. Mohanty warns readers in his introduction that this may not be the story one remembers as a child, nor is it an India that embraces colonial concepts of what ancient Indians were capable of. This is a fantastical interpretation of ancient India, where throughout history many accomplished scholars achieved great feats of science and technology and wrote prodigious tomes of myth and history. 
 
When one considers the breadth of what the Vedic people discovered or invented, and subsequently lost a large proportion of to the mists of time, one knows this will be a world to embrace and explore just like our other fantasy favourites.
 

 
Readers will find themselves drawn to the
larger-than-life characters splayed across the chessboard of the gods. From
Satyabhama
the sassy and fierce warrior; third wife to Krishna and yet
certainly not playing third fiddle in the minds of each reader; to Mati the
Kalingan pirate princess who would just as soon seduce you as stab your
unguarded rear; Shakuni the ageing sadistic torturer;  Shishupal the prince turned reluctant suitor,  Kalyavan the bombastic Greek, and Draupadi the
politically ensnared princess whose upcoming matchmaking instigates the potent
politicking across kingdoms, these are characters that powerfully stick in the
mind.
 
As a multi POV narrative, Mohanty’s command
of character is smooth and confident. These are ancient characters, and yet he makes them feel modern and familiar. Combined with a self-assured prose
that frequently left me highlighting, it is a persuasive mix.
 
Each subsequent part entices one into
discovering a new piece of the puzzle unfolding, building on what came
previously to make the reader feel more comfortable in understanding the world
and these events, even if the events themselves aren’t always of the most
comforting kind.
 
For make no mistake, this is a grimdark
book, and it sets the stage right from the start. Perhaps this is even grimdark
in the truest sense as many of these characters who come to entertain us are on
the morally grey spectrum, or in Shakuni’s case full on sadist.
 
I would say that as the book went on the
novelty of some of these grim aspects did wear off in the sense that one
becomes a little desensitised and I have certainly read books that have turned
the stomach and/or broke me further, however I would also consider it worthy of
its content warnings for many readers.
 
Whilst the worldbuilding, of which more
will be discussed later, and the characters are the standouts of Mohanty’s
epic, I did find myself somewhat emotionally detached to a lot of the
narrative. Whilst this is not necessarily a shortcoming for some readers, I
found this to be a very personality driven narrative as opposed to a character
driven one.
 
What I mean by this is that these
characters are mighty and memorable; they earn their legendary status and
imprint it into the page. However, they are, for the most part, not characters
you will know as intimate individuals as if they were your closest companions.
 
Arguably this is a result of such a
large-scale narrative and is certainly not a hinderance to one’s entertainment
here. It is simply a personal preference for intimately written tales that some
readers may share. Much of the focus here is on shock and spectacle, of which
there is indeed an abundance of both. For readers who love politics and ticking
turmoil, this will be one for you.
 
To return, as promised, to the
worldbuilding, it would be remiss of me not to dive into the divine scheming at
play here. For this is much of what occurs behind the scenes, beyond the human
horrors of war and conquest. We have ancient prophecies and deadly deities splayed
across the prologue, whilst throughout the narrative we are introduced to the
mysterious concepts of Chakras, Mandalas, Vedic concepts of the soul and spirituality
and much more besides. As a worldbuilding junkie this was the aspect to
intrigue me the most, and yet the magical did often take a seat to the
majestic.
 
Now this isn’t necessarily a bad aspect, as
clearly Mr Mohanty is biding his time to allow the petty human squabbles to
play out whilst our characters are blissfully unaware of the impending
destruction headed their way. It creates this sense of dramatic ignorance and
delighted me as a reader knowing the scale of the doom  to come.
 
Where the worldbuilding really did shine
and take to the forefront was in the cultural environment Mohanty creates with
his work. This really does feel like an ancient world of myth and wonder. It
satisfies the classic fantasy longings of some readers, whilst also feeling
suitably at home within the history of our own world. It’s fully realised,
fully dangerous, and fully loaded.
 
Whilst the first half did eagerly clench
its grip into my mood reading mind, there was a slight slump in the pace for
myself in the subsequent quarter. For a lot of readers, I know they found
differently, that the first half was slow and unwinding, and the second half
became a furious favourite. However, I am a reader with a preference for
meandering character driven worldbuilding, which is precisely how I’d describe
the first half. Gourav would treat us to a tantalising section with on
character before shifting to another part of the world, successfully
maintaining the momentum as he drew new characters inside my mind.
 
When events began to converge is when the
plot lost some of its power for me, Things started to become a little
disjointed and rushed to my mind, losing some of the potential enacted by the
excellent first half as political manoeuvrings gushed into the open.
 
 I  would
suggest avoiding the hype as much as possible, because this almost certainly
impacted my reading experience, and lead to a dampened experience of a critical
second half event. If you are a western reader unaware of the epic the
Mahabharata unfolds, don’t research the original story, or read review after
review; these things can be done once the book has been complete, and
inevitably readers will want to discover the story behind Gourav’s work. Enjoy
the show, delight in the ride and rejoice in the subsequent smorgasbord of
fantasy Indian culture and history has to offer when you desperately need more
upon completion!
 
For you will need more once you close those
last pages; the final quarter managed to pull me back into a pulse pounding
climactic thunderstrike of a finish. Despite a few cheesy one liners sneaking
into the prose, it was a crowd-pleasing epic series of events. Full on battle
rage to stir even the meekest of readers.
 
The story draws to a close not on a major
cliff-hanger, but an invigorating augury of future events set to interrupt the
petty politics at play on a human level.
 
And that endgame dear reader, like all the
characters and the writing on display is oh so beautiful.
 

 
CONCLUSION: Sons Of Darkness is a highly accomplished debut sparkling with wit and blood. Mohanty embraces the dangerous and calculating politics of Game of Thrones, combining it with the rich depths of Vedic history and lore.

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