There is something about mythology that attracts me. Having grown up on a steady diet of stories from Indian mythology, somewhere, there has always been an urge to rationalize the stories, to search for their roots, and somehow connect them to history.
In recent times, we have seen a surge in Mythological fiction from Indian authors, and in all these books, I see the same desire. However, few among them have enthralled me, or made me look forward to the sequels, which is why I have rarely volunteered to review them. Thus, when I was offered the opportunity of reviewing ‘Thundergod – The Ascendance of Indra’ by Rajiv G.Menon, I hesitated. The only reason I eventually agreed was curiosity about how the author had handled the story of a character like Indra.
Indra is extremely powerful, wielding the thunderbolt and controlling the heavens. He leads the gods in their regular forays against the demons, with the support of the higher deities. However, he is not the bright symbol of goodness he is expected to be. Stories frequently highlight his lust for power, fear of any strong ruler usurping his throne and his lack of control which frequently lands him in difficult situations. Rajiv Menon chooses to delve into this mass of contradictions, taking us through various civilizations to show us his version of Indra’s meteoric rise to power.
The book begins with the union of the earth goddess Gaia and Daeyus, chief of the Deva clan. The child’s birth is foretold, as the one who will unite warring clans and change the world order. The author charts the journey of Indra, in danger from all directions, protected by the alert warrior sage, Mitra, from a child in Central Asia to the warrior who conquers Harappa in the valley of the Indus. Along the way, he makes staunch friends, friends who will ascend with him, as gods controlling the elements – Vayu, Varuna, Agni, and Soma. Together, they control the five elements, and are unstoppable. They meet and unite the warrior clans, the descendants of Kashyapa, and together, they set out to fulfil their destiny. The end of the book was especially interesting..... Indra’s becoming a God is not what I would have expected it to be.
The best thing about the book is the attempt to unite Indian mythology with world history. Within a few pages, Rajiv takes us from Mount Meru somewhere in the Himalayas to the ancient Elamite city of Susa in present day Iran, and then to the Karakum desert in present day Turkmenistan, combining the events taking place at all three places with his narrative. He traces the journey of Indra and his companions across Asia Minor and eventually to Harappa, even chronicling the flood which leaves the erstwhile city in ruins. In the process, he also manages to combine mythologies...... the Saptharishis are an inherent part of the narrative, as are Greek, Assyrian and Babylonian deities. What I found interesting was that the author accepts and reiterates the existence of higher powers than man, but he chronicles the rise of a man to the status of a god!
The only negatives in the book are the excessive details of the war scenes, but maybe that’s simply because of my dislike for blood and gore. The same goes for the sex scenes, which, I felt didn't really fit well into the narrative. They could have been written in a more aesthetic manner. The language is stilted in a few places, and there are a couple of proofing errors which could have been avoided. The character of Indra is beautifully sketched out, but the author doesn’t do justice to many of the other characters, especially Indra’s friends, whom we learn too little about. Considering that this book is the first in a trilogy, I hope the characters in the forthcoming books are etched out more in detail.
However, these do not affect the pace and the readability of the narrative, which is what makes the book a good read.
P.S. This book was sent to me for review by Westland Books.