Book Review — The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Madeline Miller has a way with words. Reading The Song of Achilles was like swaying with the waves, the ocean lapping at you and the peace making you one with the environment. It was soothing, inviting and towards the end, a surge of emotions. I hadn’t felt this connected to a book in the longest time and so, was more than eager to get swept up in Patroclus’ narration. Told from his point of view, the novel builds a timeline of events that have seen Patroclus and Achilles together, wrapped in a cocoon of love and support for one another. While we are introduced to Patroclus as a young boy of 9 years age, floundering under his father’s decision to present him as a suitor for Princess Helen, it is much later that he grows into an individual in his own right.

The author delivers the story of Patroclus and Achilles with such beauty, as to absorb us into the book, unable to set it down even for one moment. I was especially convinced of her genius when the scenes pertaining to war and politics, instead of diminishing my interest, furthered my desire to know more of what had transpired. In all its unabashed honesty, Miller depicts the foolishness of humans; the manner in which the pride and prejudice of kings have ushered in their downfall. Bound to the story with ropes of intrigue and awe, I kept wishing that Achilles had had more clarity of thought, allowing him to assess the situation better and take decisions that might have (sort of?) prevented a great deal of mishap. One thing you’re going to have to keep in mind is that this novel mentions a large number of mythological figures, which means atleast a hundred Greek names bouncing off your mind. They weren’t easy for me to remember, particularly the names of the secondary characters. But rest assured, the twenty or so important ones will remain in your memory.

It was a mesmerizing thing indeed to read about Patroclus and how he changes from an ordinary, under-confident lad to one who stands up for people, knows his worth in war and is incredibly courageous. Achilles’ character arc, on the other hand, takes a surprising dip. I like the inclusion of Briseis’ character. She plays a pivotal role in Achilles’ life and brings a new dynamic to Patroclus’ identity. The Song of Achilles is abundant with themes of love, politics, greed, slavery, monarchy to name a few. On the whole, it was such a pleasant experience reading about the eternal nature of Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship. I can’t believe that I put off reading it for so long. Now that I have, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that this has become one of my all time favourites. Highly recommend it to those who enjoy reading mythological fiction. PICK. IT. UP. NOW.

Rating – 5 out of 5 stars (and more!)

What do you get out of this book? An epic story about two epic characters from Greek mythology, with a dash of romance, politics and friendship.

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Book Review — Aqson Level 1 by Sreejib

Aqson Level 1 is an action packed Indian fantasy fiction that has so many layers to it, it’s a complete feast! God and Lucifer have started a new game, the goal of which is to make their weapon the Prime Minister of India. They launch their angels onto the battlefield to defeat one another and take control of all the weapons that Nature has endowed them with. Toya Mahapatra and her friends were only getting by with their college when an unforeseen incident pulls them into the student politics scene in Kolkata. They soon realize just how influential they have become on a national level. What they fail to realize is that governing humans is but a game to God & Lucifer; unfortunately for them, they’re neck deep in the mess.

FINALLY! An Indian fantasy fiction that has been done right. When I heard about this book, I was extremely enthused at the idea of a fantasy plot being based in India. But this book just blew my expectations away. There’s so much going for it:

  • For gamers – The surface level plot being a video game with maps, rules, opponents, weapons etc. 
  • For fantasy lovers – Mythology, elemental magic, angels.
  • For politically inclined – elections, youth politics, strategising. 
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All of the above are masterfully woven into the multiple plot points that constitute the book. There’s so much more I could list, but I will leave it to you to discover. The author’s writing style is very descriptive, focusing on minute details to give you the complete picture. I liked the fact that some of the speech occurs in Bengali (there’s translation too! so don’t worry about that.) and cultural motifs have been generously sprinkled throughout the novel. In addition to being of fantasy genre, it is also laced with a certain kind of thrill and humor that makes it all the more enjoyable. There were so many mesmerizing moments where I couldn’t believe how intricate and genius the plot points were!! The world building is mind blowing. On the other hand, there were small instances that could have been more convincing. That’s something I felt could have been improved.

Speaking about characters, I downright detested Ollie a.k.a Niyol. He’s a sexist and wouldn’t stop ordering Toya around. The only time I felt remotely proud of him was during a debate (you’ll see what I’m talking about). I was also confused at times by Toya’s personality; she’d have these random outbursts. Arpita and Goenka are the two characters I liked. Arpita is dauntless, open-minded and considerate. Nevertheless, the bond that Toya, Goenka, AJ, Ollie, Rahul and Arpita share is heartwarming to say the least. They are all super protective of each other and find a sense of belonging in their tight knit group, even when things aren’t going right. I would have liked some more scenes with God and Lucifer, the little taste we get in the prologue is just not enough. Overall, I liked this book so so so much. I would recommend it to all of you fiction readers. Just give this one a try, you’ll be left speechless.

Is there a next book? Someone please tell me there’s a second book. I NEED IT ASAP.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? A very unique outlook on mythology, astral travel and a refreshing glimpse of what youth could contribute to politics.

Thank you Sreejib for sending me a copy of your book in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review — Demigods and Magicians by Rick Riordan

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The three short stories that make up Demigods and Magicians bring together the characters of the Percy Jackson series and those of the Kane Chronicles series in a thrilling fashion. There’s a new baddie in town and for a change, his ambitions are a lot bigger than usual. Setne (or Prince Khaemwaset) is an evil magician who wishes to combine Egyptian and Greek magic to become more powerful than all the Gods. In doing so, he threatens the very foundation of the world.

Rick Riordan has, without a doubt, become one of my auto-buy authors. I will read anything and everything that he writes. Having loved the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series, I wasn’t the least bit hesitant about picking up this collection which focused a tad bit more on Egyptian mythology. The stories were short, fast paced and an absolute treat! My favourite has to be The Crown of Ptolemy. Percy and Carter’s friendship is just as heartwarming and filled with funny moments as is Sadie and Annabeth’s. Both the duos couldn’t be more unlike each other. But when they all come together at the end, oh boy. And even with the others, the interaction between characters is sketched out so commendably.

I haven’t read the Kane Chronicles, but suffice it to say, Percy will always be my favourite character. He is hilarious and has a beautiful relationship going on with Annabeth. This book reminded me just how much I missed Percy’s sass and headstrong personality. Time for a re-read of the PJ series. I’ve come to realize that I love Riordan’s full fledged novels a lot more, even if they are as chunky as the Heroes of Olympus books. Because short stories don’t really do much justice to his writing style and the potential of the story. What prevents me from giving this book 5 stars is that even though I can’t pick a single fault with the stories themselves, I would have rather liked to see them interwoven into a novel than cut short abruptly. All in all, I would 100% recommend this fantastic book to everyone who is interested in mythology.

Ratings – 4 out of 5 stars

What do you get out of it? Three really incredible and exciting reads that introduce you to Egyptian mythology. And if you need more motivation, have you seen the covers?

Book Review — Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

“In the Veda there is a line ‘vikruti evam prakruti’ which can be translated as ‘all things queer are also part of nature’.” – Devdutt Pattanaik.

In Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, Devdutt Pattanaik brings to the forefront those tales from Indian mythology that point out our previously comfortable stance towards Queerness. He highlights even the most heard of tale in a way so us to grant us better understanding of how accepting we were at a point of time. Stories range from how Lord Krishna transforms into Mohini to how Mandhata was born of no mother. This book surpasses expectations and then some. It is so rich with characters known and worshiped by people from all over India. What’s more is that after every tale, the author presents a literary analysis from the perspective of Queer Theory. This book couldn’t be more appropriate in keeping with the problems of the present time.

I devoured this book in a day. It was so wholesome and fulfilling, particularly because I have learned literary theory in college. We had an entire section titled “Queer Theory” in the curriculum but for some ludicrous reason it was made “self study” and not discussed in class. Some of the stories in this book are ones that we’ve heard from our families like that of Bhasmasura, Shikhandi, Bhagirath, Ahalya etc whereas many others were new to me. The amount of information in this book is overwhelming in its entirety because there are so many names involved and versions to each story.

After a story, the author discusses the origin of the text, how it differs from place to place and even questions it from the queer perspective. But I couldn’t put it down and had to finish it, so a lot of the names may have flown over my head, nevertheless I can always go back and read random stories again. I’m certain I will. The book opens with two sections that are solely about understanding the Queer with examples from all over the world. It historicizes concepts like lesbianism, cross-dressing, hijras to throw light on their prevalence even in the time of Ram Rajya. This book prods us into questioning popular beliefs and not conforming to the society’s condemnation of anything that is beyond normal. It shows us that if Gods and Goddesses are accepting of gender fluidity or queerness than we shouldn’t be criminalizing and looking down upon those who do not identify with the two categories of male and female. I absolutely loved this book from the very beginning and am glad it remained wonderful till the end. Maybe this book should be incorporated into school and university curriculum. If you are the least bit interested in mythology or LGBTQ stories then please please read this book. It is splendid!

Ratings – 5 stars on 5.

Meera

Book Review — Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Thank You very much Simon Pulse and Edelweiss for this opportunity to review the book. 

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld is a fantasy novel that takes the readers on a roller coaster ride between the lives of Darcy Patel and Lizzie Scofield. Simply putting it, it is a story within a story. Darcy Patel, a budding novelist is overwhelmed at the magnanimity of the book publishing process. Surrounded by famous writers and other intimidating personnel, she is uncertain about how well received her book will be, once she is able to get across the drastic measures of rewriting Afterworlds, her brain child. Putting a hold on her education, she travels to New York, keen to establish a life for herself. There she meets Imogen Gray, a fellow writer caught in the midst of her second and third book. Darcy and Imogen develop a close relationship and soon begin to live together. But in the world of print, where every day a new novel is being published and the editors seem like preying hawks – will Darcy be able to return home with success draping her every step?

Lizzie Scofield is the protagonist of Darcy’s novel, whose life changes tenfold on her way back home. At the airport there’s a terrorist attack and Lizzie’s soul takes the brunt of the stress and trauma pervading the atmosphere. Soon she is witness to the spiritual realm which complicates her life and distances her from her family and friends. But she meets the God of Death, Yama, and is able to lean on him for support when everything else seems like a façade. This kind of knowledge brings about an awareness of the “afterworld” and its unsolved mysteries. With power comes responsibility and so Lizzie must decide whether to right all wrongs thereby putting herself at risk or let the balance of good & bad play itself out.

I don’t normally take a month to finish a book, particularly one that has a plot as brilliant as this one. The idea of a book within a book – genius move by Scott Westerfeld! But what it lacked the most is a drive, an agent that pushes the reader onto the next page. Frankly speaking, I haven’t been able to read more than 40 pages a day till the first half of the book. After that I flew through it, loving Darcy’s experiences and yearning for the same as a budding writer. Her lesbian relationship with Imogen wasn’t expected but it did come across stronger than what you’d think. Even though it isn’t new, the whole “ghost whisperer” aspect worked out with the help of Yama, the God of Death as per Hindu mythology. Being a Hindu myself, I didn’t quite understand why the author picked a God of Death, that too someone as fierce as Yamaraj and portray him as being soft, kind hearted and a very non-aggressive character. I was puzzled by that and at times I thought it would get mind boggling to follow two different yet interwoven stories,  but it was actually fun. Scott Westerfeld’s writing is really easy to follow and it gives you a vivid image of exactly what he is seeing in his mind which was a plus point. I could see Lizzie walking around the flipside with Mindy, the friendly ghost. I only wish it was a little more compelling and fast paced. Apart from that it is a decent read. I don’t know if I would recommend it to everyone but fans of the supernatural, grab a copy, see if it works out better for you than it did for me.

Ratings – 3 stars on 5.

Mia

Book Review — Gods & Monsters Trilogy by Kelly Keaton

Today I am going to review the entire trilogy of Gods & Monsters by Kelly Keaton. Worry not, there wont be any spoilers for those who haven’t read the whole series. I will be just briefly talking about the plot, characters, and stuff.

The Darkness Becomes Her trilogy by Kelly Keaton follows Aristanae, a girl who has for a long time been uncertain about her origins. Having been adopted at a young age, she has no clue about her birth parents or why there is a sense of discomfort deep within her. One day she ventures into the forbidden area of New 2 – where everyone isn’t quite normal –  with the purpose to find more about herself. What she discovers is far from anything she could’ve ever imagined. Regardless of how much she wants to deny the truth, it all makes sense and she must learn to accept the choices made for her. But here too, amidst the whispered glances, she sees a kind of wariness in others. As the book progresses, faces of demons from history loom before her. One wrong decision and New 2 is once again reduced to dust. And this time it will be all her fault.

A Beautiful Evil and The Wicked Within pick up after heart wrenching cliff hangers. A War. Many Losses and A New Threat. People who once stood by her are being flung off the game board and soon she must be strong enough to escape a prison that no one has before. Filled with lots of shocks and surprises, the trilogy is a piece of wonder and addiction. Ari is not only being pitted against a God far more experienced than herself but must also face the rigid heads of New 2  when the Hands of Zeus, a relic integral to establishing peace in New 2,  goes missing.

I read these books months back and didn’t get a chance to review them. But they are so terrific and not many people know about it, so I just want to hold a banner and scream how awesome this trilogy is. Firstly the plot – brilliant concept! Who would’ve thought that Kelly Keaton could take a villain of mythology and bring out her side of the story. Not many people give that kind of importance to the anti heroes and so Kudos to the author for even thinking of such a perspective. All three books were very well thought out and there weren’t any draggy sequences. When New Orleans was destroyed years ago, three founding families came together and rebuilt it as New 2. But the secrets of the three founding families has made it a “weird personnel only” area and even the Government has washed their hands off New 2 & its inhabitants. Ari is really brave for even stepping foot into such a place but soon she grows close to a family of youngsters there – Sebastian, Violet, Crank, Henri and Dub. I think building a house of kids and teens who work for each other was another plus point of the novel. They really help her figure things out.

The romance in the novel revolves around Ari and Sebastian. Which made the third book all the more disheartening. Ari makes a huge mistake and we as readers are left clutching what is left of a shattered heart and mind. Yeah, that’s how much drawn I was to the trilogy. Sebastian’s grandmother who is the head of one of the families is a rather annoying and meddlesome character. I really adored Violet and her fascination with gowns, masks. She made me think of a cute little crocodile, for some reason. The book focuses on Pandora’s story too as well as that of some Greek Gods. I have loved New Orleans ever since The Originals and this book had tons of that, so thumbs up! With a new take on mythology and fantasy, Kelly Keaton deserves a standing ovation for a job so brilliantly done. Overall, one of the best trilogy I’ve read in a long long time.

Ratings – 5 stars on 5.

Mia