Book Review: The Wordkeepers
As soon as I started reading the first page of Jash Sen’s debut novel, The Wordkeepers, I was instantly hooked by the scene, which drew me right onto the battleground in Kurukshetra, set at a pivotal moment, with Arjun–Ashwatthama about to annihilate the planet, and Lord Krishna trying to prevent it. Thus began a roller coaster ride of an absolutely unique story that is woven beautifully by Jash.
The Mahabharata is a war of good versus evil, where the boundaries of what is fair and what is not become indistinguishable—so relevant still in our world today, where nothing is black or white; where money and greed are the root cause of indescribable suffering for all living creatures. Jash Sen has alluded to this state of affairs and cleverly used the Mahabharata as the background and the winning war waged by god Kali (not Goddess Kaali) as a metaphor to illustrate the impact of this war in a world where lust for wealth and power trump human decency and kindness to all.
Jash Sen starts her novel with the revenge fueled Ashwatthama using the Brahmashir weapon, in defiance of Lord Krishna’s warning whose curse, which like that of Tithonus’, sentences Ashwatthama to a never ending life of leprous existence without any possibility of merciful release by death. The story is introduced by Vibhishana who is the General of the Wordkeepers, who spread across the world, have for generations kept a secret that the god Kali is after.
We are taken to 2028, in modern Bangalore to a regular household where we discover that one of the protagonists Anya is in extreme danger, as are her parents and any other friends of the family due to their unbroken tradition of being one of the Wordkeepers, generation after generation. This danger dogs all families who have given their word to protect the secret. We are also introduced to another of the protagonist – Bilaal – a carefree village boy, in rural Andhra Pradesh.
From this point on, the story is a non-stop ride. Jash has written a page turner that has a complex and well thought out plot. She has excelled in bringing the characters together and tying up lose ends in this novel, which is the first in a set of three.
Jash has a talent for weaving a web of tangled lies where spies, magic, subterfuge, bravery, innocence, death, malevolence and danger lurk around the corner, surprising the reader each time. The mastermind of the plot aims to destroy all opposition and has a cadre of trained professional killers, devious and ruthless in the execution of their mission. The ever-present danger will keep the reader on the edge of his or her seat.
Jash does a great job of introducing several characters in her first book. The challenge in doing this is that unless characters are made uniquely identifiable, the reader can get confused. However, she has succeeded in making them distinct, both in physical appearance and in personality. Even so, as is frequently the case, with so many characters, their personalities are not equally well filled out, given the constraints of book size.
Anya’s life as a teenager living in 2028 is depicted authentically and her thoughts and ideas are familiar, given the fact teens will always be teens. Her upper class and privileged life are well contrasted with Bilaal’s life in the village and the innocent excitement and craving of television fame, of his doomed friends.
On the flip side, Jash would do well to do more research in the futuristic electronics likely to be around in 2028. Somehow, it was hard to imagine flash drives, cable TV and automated voice commands on a phone being used in the future, since they are already being replaced by much more advanced technology already today. Her language is simple and colloquial, easy to follow. There are few places where a little background information is needed, for the reader does encounters gaps in few places. For example, Parashuram is referred to as Bilaal’s guru without any reference to how that relationship was formed, specially since Bilaal is a Muslim and the guru-shishya relationship would not be culturally familiar.
Even though the protagonists get a lot more attention in The Wordkeepers, my personal favorite is Dhoomavati—truly an authentic and fascinating character who is full of life. There is an air of irreverence and crazy, manic hysteria, along with an awe inspiring show of Shakti that make her stand out and very likeable. As a reader I was instantly invested in her. There are several other characters from the Mahabharata who feature prominently and they make a believable and authentic transition in the scenes set in 2028, but you will have to buy the book and read it to find out who they are and what they are up to. Indeed there is a lot to read, discover and enjoy in The Wordkeepers.
Jash has written a tight book, a page-turner with an original twist on a traditional theme. I congratulate her on her debut and look forward to reading the next book in the series.
Watch The Words:
Browse through the full list of book reviews in the depths of the Pensieve.
Fastest way to read this