Published by Hachette India, 2018, 360 pages.
Welcome to a world of magic, flying carpets and rakshasas! Before I go any further, full disclosure: Achala Upendran is a friend. This is her first novel.
Sultanpur is a vast empire, ranging from mountainous Firozia to the cities of Dastakar. It is home to humans, djinns and other beings. Peace has come after a fierce war between humans and rakshasas, after which the demons were banished from Sultanpur, and no one in the kingdom is allowed to even mention them. The Sultan has kept the peace by imposing strict limits on magic and on certain books.
But the books still exist, and it is possible to get hold of one if you know the right person, for example, Ismail, a bookseller. His sister, Roza, a handmaiden of the Princess, persuades him to get her a forbidden volume. Using the spells in the book, she summons Manukarmini, a rakshasi, in a land where they had not been seen for three centuries.
But is that really true? Devankar, a reporter working at the Sultanpurian, uncovers a bombshell: Sudhakar, the Sultan’s commander and one of his most trusted advisors, has rakshasa ancestry. Devankar takes the story to his editor, who sells him out to the Palace. Before long, he has not only the Palace guards on his trail, but a dangerous group called the Dawn Worshippers.
The Dawn Worshippers has been formed by the Master, a war veteran and an extremely powerful magician. The Master has sworn vengeance on Sultanpur and has returned to wreak havoc, accompanied by his two disciples, Mrinalini and Farzan.
This book is the first of a series, which explains some loose ends. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and loved the little touches like the public and private carpets (public and private transport). There are plenty of strong female characters, including the Princess, who has a bigger role to play than this review suggests. Manukarmini is sympathetically portrayed—Upendran doesn’t see her as the “other” but as someone who gets caught up in events and does the best she can.
The best fantasy reflects our world in some way, and the thread of the division between humans and rakshasas echoes the polarization that we are seeing in so many countries. The kingdom’s peace has been achieved by completely excluding a group. But as we all know—or should know—real peace comes with understanding the other.
I am looking forward to the next installment and to seeing this world develop and grow. A warning for readers outside India: the print edition is only available in India. Readers elsewhere will need to download the Kindle version.
 Demons in Hindu mythology.
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