Sons of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty (Reviewed by Shazzie)

 Book Review: Sons of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty

sons of darkness by gourav mohanty

Official Author Website

OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Gourav Mohanty was born in Bhubaneswar, the City of Temples. A gold medallist from SLS, Pune, he currently practices law in Mumbai. He moonlights as a stand-up comic, a painter, and a blogger. As evident, his life always has many tabs open. A connoisseur of mythologies and momos, he has won numerous scholarships, one of which took him to the castles of Europe. Ever since, he has wanted to play medieval matchmaker by conjuring a world where Vedic India meets Italian Renaissance. Sons Of Darkness is his SFF debut. 

Bled dry by violent confrontations with the Magadhan Empire, the Mathuran Republic simmers on the brink of oblivion. The Republic’s Leaders, Krishna and Satyabhama, have put their plans in motion within and beyond its blood-soaked borders, to protect it from annihilation. But they will soon discover that neither gold nor alliances last forever.

They are, however, not the only players in this game.

Mati, Pirate-Princess of Kalinga, must mend her ways if she is to be a good wife. But old habits die hard, especially when one habitually uses murder to settle scores. Karna, the gifted son of a lowborn charioteer, hopes to bury his brutal past, but finds that life is not generous in offering second chances. The crippled hero-turned-torturer Shakuni struggles in the maze of daggers, that is politics, leaving little time for him to plot the revenge he craves.

Alongside a cast of sinister queens, naive kings, pious assassins and predatory priests, these dubious heroes will converge where the Son of Darkness is prophesied to rise and break the World, even as forgotten Gods prepare to play their hand.

FORMAT/INFO: Sons Of Darkness is divided into several character-titled chapters (spread out over six sections) with a prologue and epilogue. This book is the first volume in The Rag Of Rta Series.

June 3, 2022 marked the US, UK & Indian e-book and paperback publication of Sons Of Darkness and it was published by Leadstart Publishing. It will be relaunched by Head of Zeus in July, 2023.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The only pitch I needed for this book was that it’s based on The Mahabharatha, what I consider one of the greatest and grandest stories ever told. It is the second of India’s two epics, and is supposedly eight times longer than The Iliad and The Odyssey combined. I grew up listening to these stories, I have read several translations and variants, and my hunger for anything based on it can never be sated. When I picked this up, one thing was abundantly clear: Gourav Mohanty is not just very aware of the legacy he builds his story on, but is also very well-read in the Indian mythos, and displays immense respect for them in this book.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Mahabharatha, pop culture depicts it as a story of an important family having a territorial dispute, but it is so much more. All the characters in the epic are shown in various shades of grey, and are people who make the best choices they think they can in certain impossible situations. While the myth has tons of religious connotation, it packs an amazing story with a variety of characters and storytelling structures that probably encompass everything we read in fantasy fiction today, and to base a story on that is no small undertaking. In this book, the author draws from the original epic and places a lot of the key characters from Indian epics in a different setting reminiscent of Vedic India that will undoubtedly be attractive to fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, while preserving many pivotal moments in the original myth.

While this book is set in a time with the setting in high geo-political turmoil, it mainly follows certain events through a set of key characters that include Muchuk Und, Krishna, Satyabhama, Draupadi, Shakuni, Karna, Mato, Masha, Nala, and Shishupal. Most of these characters in the original myth are extremely flawed, larger than life, and here they are too, in different ways. They seem to be faced with similarly difficult circumstances, but the way their perspectives are presented by the narration in the book made me feel like they were all fighting back despite being backed into a corner. This rich characterisation makes the stakes feel higher in many familiar beats from the well known story. While the Pandavas do make appearances in the story and are given significant page time, they are not the focus on this first entry. Not always do the characters and their actions align with the original epic, but those that do, are very brilliantly depicted. This is where I applaud the author’s version of Shakuni, easily my favourite point of view in the book – depicted as man capable of extreme pettiness, one who schemes to exact revenge for the cruelty faced in the past, but also shows shades of sympathy and consideration toward others.

With respect to the key story points in the Mahabharatha, I enjoyed watching them happen from other perspectives in this setting, as well as the way that the author chose to fill in many moments between them, giving us some much needed original “behind-the-scenes” interactions that explain the actions of many characters that are glossed over in many tellings of the story. Along with setting up readers to understand the socio-political aspects of this world that complicate things for the characters, the author also adds a fascinating magic system based on chakras and mandalas, with the promise of more to be explored in future books in the series. For the Indian readers, the interesting tidbits and references inserted from the mythos are sure to be a delight.

I’m not one for action-heavy books, but the sequences in this one are extremely well done. There is a lovely archery showdown, but infused with a ton of chaos that makes the world feel extremely lived in without losing sight of the main battle. 

There are certain sections of the book that feel exposition heavy, and would love to see this change in future books. In other moments, there are dialogues that are heavily influenced by certain movies or books, and made me wish for more originality.

CONCLUSION: Sons of Darkness is a terrific debut, and I am eager to get my hands on the sequel. It contains compelling characterisation, memorable action sequences, and perspectives from some of the most interesting characters from the original epics, while humanizing them in new ways, and is sure to be a rewarding reading experience, and contains something new and exciting to offer all readers, regardless of their familiarity with Indian epics.

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