Today I am talking about the much-awaited sequel in The Burnt Empire Saga, by Ashok K Banker. An epic-fantasy based on our very own epic – the Mahabharata!
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(This blog post also contains a review copy that was sent to me by the publisher. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)
In a world where demigods and demons walk among mortals, the emperor of the vast Burnt Empire has died, leaving a turbulent realm without a leader. Two young princes, Adri and Shvate, are in line to rule but birthright does not guarantee inheritance: Any successor must sit upon the legendary Burning Throne and pass The Test of Fire. Imbued with dark sorceries, the throne is a crucible that incinerates the unworthy.
Adri and Shvate are not the sole heirs to the empire, there is another with a claim to power, another who also survives. When this girl, whose father is the powerful demonlord Jarsun, is denied her claim by the interim leaders, Jarsun declares war, vowing to tear the Burnt Empire apart – leaving the young princes Adri and Shvate to rule a shattered realm embroiled in rebellion and chaos.
What happened in Part 1 and 2?
I read the first book in this series quite some time ago and from what I remember, that book concentrated quite a bit on the world-building aspect and the construction of the setting. It revolved around the princes and the royal families and their relationships with each other. In Part 2, the focus is given instead on the backstories of the characters, their pasts, and their emotional buildup – all culminating in the ultimate war.
The question about retellings: A disclaimer (?)
In the Burnt Empire series, the author has given a fantastic retelling of the epic Mahabharata, but has altered a few essential aspects of it, so as to keep it entertaining. But while this may be a controversial point, I do think that retellings, especially in fantasy, do not have to remain completely true to the original story – if it does, where is the scope for imagination?
A more humane version of the divine characters
The BURNT EMPIRE SAGA is a kind of retelling of the Mahabharata for today’s readers. Banker’s world is full of a cast of diverse characters, and you often find various parallels between these ones and the original Vyasa’s cast. However, Banker’s characters although inspired from the original demigods and such powerful and revered ones, are more human and as such much more realistic. I believe it is this very fact that makes this fantasy series, so steeped in reality – because of the gray nature of humanity. It is never only black or white, but rather somewhere in between.
An epic setup!
And as is expected of epic fantasy – A DARK QUEEN RISES brings about yet more characters into the foreground and sets the stage as the author goes about letting the reader know of this vast world. Like the previous books, this one too kept me excited and just awed by the majestic world-building of Banker. Where the previous books were set in Hastinaga (Banker’s version of Hastinapur) with the characters of Adri, Shvate, Vida etc, A DARK QUEEN RISES is set in the sandy The Reygistan Empire (literally, the Desert Empire). This time around, it follows the sibling duo Drishya and Krushita, both of whose aim is one – to kill Jarsun.
It is very rich, and so reflective and inspired by our own mythology that I was really impressed by this retelling. The complexities that Banker lends to this story is simply on another level and is perhaps one of the many such engaging bits about this series that keeps the reader hooked on. I am so happy that my brother has expressed interest in picking it up – he will be reading Book 1 after he is finished with his current read! I am also quite distressed by that cliffhanger ending and look forward to the next book (The Blind King’s Wrath) to come out!
Any guesses as to who the Blind King is? 😉
A dark Queen Rises was quite an enjoyable read for me. I rated it 4/5 stars.
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