Book Review: Soul Warrior
In the last one decade, the Indian book market has seen a rapid upsurge of mythological fiction. Writers like Ashok Banker, Devdutt Pattanaik, Amish Tripathi has struck a chord with the young Indian readers who although seem reluctant to read the primary texts like The Mahabharata, The Ramayana, are more than interested in modern re-tellings of these texts which make these texts more accessible. So much so, that one of the early practitioners of the genre, Ashok Banker believes that the Indian mythological fiction has a great selling value. This may be one of the biggest reasons that the Indian market has suddenly been inundated with mythological fiction.
As defined by Wikipedia, “Mythic fiction is literature that is rooted in, inspired by, or that in some way draws from the tropes, themes and symbolism of myth, legend, folklore, and fairy tales”; the genre offers great fluidity to the writers as the narratives can be placed in the ancient, medieval or modern age, the myths can be manipulated into a thriller, detective fiction, political fiction or a simple fight between the good and the evil and so forth, the same characters can be imagined and re-imagined in different contexts, the marginal characters can be afforded with a voice, sub-alternate histories can be written etc. As I see it it not just has a lot of selling value it also has a lot of creative scope.
Falguni Kothari’s with her latest book Soul Warrior also takes a dip into the mythological fantasy genre. Drawing material from The Mahabharata and South Asian mythology including the Canons of Kali Yug, the author places her story in the modern era. Picking up the threads of Karna’s death on the seventeenth day of the Great Kuru War, the story immediately moves on to Karna’s reincarnation as the Soul Warrior whose duty is to safeguard the human realm from demons, asuras, pischas etc. From there, the story moves to the present times wherein the Trinity advises the Soul Warrior to act as the Guru of the six children of Draupadi, the youngest of whom is begotten with Karna. The plot is built around two prophecies according to which the progeny of Karna and Draupadi will either be the harbinger of doom or the slayer of souls.
To begin with, interspersing of myths from various canons is an idea with a great potential in the hands of a seasoned author. The starting of the novel traces out this idea with dexterity; however, the book disintegrates into a strained romantic love affair between Karna and Draupadi alternating between passion and indifference.
From the starting of the novel, the author lays great focus on the sexuality of women irrespective of their status, role, character and motive in the book. In the first chapter, the readers meet three goddesses, Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvati,
“He bent to kiss Saraswati’s cheek, and lavished equal attention on the other two Goddesses, bussing their cheeks lightly. Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Vishnu’s consort, remained ageless, charming and graceful in a gold lame sheath straight out of a runaway show, while Parvati, Shiva’s better half, was in her signature leopard leather garments and red stilettos.”
It is not just the goddesses who are described in the physical sense over everything else. The author takes great pain to describe the fashion sense of every female character in the book and this seems to be the primary focus of the book. Whether it is the Goddesses, Draupadi, daughters of Draupadi, no one is above this obsession with their looks and the kind of clothes they wear. Further, the author intentionally uses words in a way to blur the distinction between the ancient and the modern and to bring the gods to the levels of mortals, however, instead of striking a chord with the readers, this rather proves to be the undoing of the book.
The success of every book hinges on its characters and their development with the progress of the plot. In Soul Warrior, the reader never gets a glimpse into the characters’ psyche, motivations, aspirations etc. A plethora of characters are introduced in the book, both central and marginal, however, none of them are explored by the author deeply. The characters appear and disappear frequently; the characters like Lavya, Draas, Ash, Vala, Kalika, Yahvi (supposedly the central character of the book) etc. are never developed. The author spends too much narrative on the love affair of Draupadi and Karna and fails to focus on the characters and the plot.
Every great fantasy fiction has a colossal and formidable villain that matches the strength of a hero and that villain’s defeat by the hero turns him into a hero. To do so, it becomes imperative for an author to develop the villain with great details whether it is Voldemort, The White Witch, The Witch King or any from the lot. Although, always operating in shadows, the readers get an idea about the villainy of the evil character and what makes that character so deadly and fearsome. However, in Soul Warrior, the readers only learn about the existence of the stone demon, Vala who was defeated, some five thousand years ago, by the Soul Warrior and whose revival will unleash the great reign of terror on Earth but the readers never gets a glimpse into his past and what makes him so petrifying.
Although the entire book is written with the intention of its culmination into the Great War between Vala and the Soul Warrior and the entire narrative is spent on how the godlings should be prepared and trained to be demon hunters by Karna, the readers never see any actual preparation for the Great War. Even the war that ultimately takes place occupies somewhere around ten to fifteen pages which is rather a mockery of the entire narrative.
Summing up, the book begins with a great potential but soon deteriorates into a romantic chic-lit instead of focusing on the action that would mark the arrival of the end of the human world. Although the mythological fiction genre in India has produced some of excellent works, this is definitely not one of them.
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