Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Shadow Throne by Aroon Raman – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

'A mysterious murder at the Qutub Minar triggers a call to ace journalist Chandrasekhar from his cop acquaintance, Inspector Syed Ali Hassan. The victim is unlike anyone Chandra has ever seen: a white Caucasian male who has all the looks of a throwback to Greek antiquity. Soon after, Hassan calls in to report the case has been taken away from him – in all likelihood by RAW – the Research & Analysis Wing, the uber-agency of Indian intelligence.

What began as a murder enquiry soon morphs into a deadly game of hide-and-seek within the shadowy world of Pakistan’s ISI and India’s RAW; and Chandra, his friend history professor Meenakshi Pirzada and Hassan find themselves in a race against time to avert a sub-continental nuclear holocaust. As the action moves to its hair-raising climax in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, Chandra must face up to the fact that Inspector Hassan is not all that he seems …'

The Shadow Throne is a conspiracy thriller with a glimpse of history written by Aroon Raman. It didn’t take me too long to get intrigued by the write-up of this book – with a touch of history (including a history professor for a protagonist), a murder, cross border conspiracy and of course, with the plot also moving into Afghanistan.

It had an excellent start, with the author giving the reader a full insight into the main protagonist – Chandrasekhar (whose part is narrated from a first person perspective) – a middle aged widower bereaved by the recent untimely death of his wife who is a freelance journalist based in Delhi, passionate about his profession. And once the character introduction was done, the action began in no time, with Chandra getting a call regarding an unusual murder at Qutub Minar – with the victim being one of the descendants of the ancient Indo-Greeks. But, the murder is linked to a much greater conspiracy involving multiple factions including RAW of India, Xiphos Soter (a group of Indo-Greeks in Afghanistan trying to reclaim their past glory) and the ISI of Pakistan with India facing a potential nuclear threat. It all comes down to Chandrasekhar and Syed Ali Hassan (an inspector in Delhi Police) to go all the way to Afghanistan serving both India and Pakistan and to stop the nuclear threat against all odds and are in the process helped by Meenakshi Pirzada, a history professor and a friend of Chandra’s late wife.

I felt this novel had the perfect start, as aforementioned, giving an insight into the protagonist and then, straight, going on to the crux of the novel without beating about the bush. The reason why I’m a little sceptical about trying out new age Indian authors is primarily because of clichéd mundane plots being presented in sub-standard language but thankfully, I had a pleasant surprise with this novel. I enjoyed the author’s language and the description of the scenes of the novels, and thanks to his emphasis on detail, I had no issues in visualising the novel. Another great aspect of this novel is the good research – with the author having to touch up on a wide range of things, such as the border security along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, nuclear missiles, the Indo-Greeks and their practices, the internal functioning of intelligence agencies, Afghanistan, etc. It was also great to see the character of Hassan and Chandra develop so well during the course of the novel bringing out the complexities so well. However, the best part I felt about this novel was, that despite all the write-up, Pakistan / ISI is not the enemy. When I initially read the publisher’s write-up, I thought it was one of those Pakistan bashing stories which sell so well in India (not sure about books, certainly in films) but thankfully, it wasn’t and in fact, it was pleasing to see such collaboration that one would just hope for it to happen outside a work of fiction, too.

However, despite all the positives, one disappointing thing about the novel was that the Afghan setting, in my opinion wasn’t utilised well enough. I’d have enjoyed the novel a lot more had the author touched more upon the surroundings at Ghazni and the journey to Bamiyan, even if it had extended the novel by another twenty pages. While the character development of Hassan and Chandra was excellent, at the same time, Meenakshi could’ve been given some attention too as I could never connect with her very much, as a reader – seemed more like one of those sundry characters who give a couple of vital clues and just fade out.

While I read comparisons of this with Dan Brown, I wouldn’t stop at that, I also found an element of Henry Rider Haggard in his work, regarding a lost race with huge dreams and touch of Alistair MacLean, as far as the action (and needless to say, the protagonist surviving against the unlikeliest of odds). It was pleasing to read such an excellent piece of work from a modern Indian author and I wish to read more of his works. To summarise, this is a fabulous debut and I wish to read more of his works.

Considering the plot, the pace, the language, the character development and the research involved to put together the 320 page ‘page-turner’, I’d give this book an eight in my scale.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,

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