THURSDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2010
Ancient story, young perspective.
A familiar plot but with new-age perspectives interspersed with mythology and history - Tanya Thomas
Fantasy has never been my choice of genre. In fact, I had to force myself to complete the Harry Potter series and long decided never to come within sniffing distance of Cullen and Co. But you can never refuse a friend’s first novel, despite the genre she’s chosen. So it was debutante writer Priya K.’s Prophecy: The Rise of the Sword that broke my over-three year abstinence, and I’m glad it did.
For a rough outline – Neha Sharma, a rich and mostly idle Delhi girl (probably an influence of Wodehouse, the author’s favourite) joins forces with American Atlantologist Nick Halliday to track down the ruins of the submerged ancient city of Altantis.
A surprisingly short search however leads them to Lemuria, an underwater colony that the Atlanteans had migrated to en masse before a cataclysm subdued the earth 12,000 years ago; so that’s a highly advanced Ice Age civilisation thriving, undetected by the modern world, in the Indian Ocean.
Over their 11-month stay in Lemuria, the protagonist and her now-boyfriend discover the wonders of this underwater civilisation, meet friendly Lemurians and find that Neha is actually the concealed nation’s long-awaited ‘Chosen One’. She now needs to help defeat the evil God of War Thragone and his vile sword Ikatta (a little like Voldemort’s Nagini) so that peace prevails in these uncharted depths.
The book, no doubt, gives an old theory a young, new-age perspective. So not only is it the work of a very fertile imagination, it’s also very well-researched, with historical details and popular speculation all falling in place within its structure. There’s also the occasional attempt at scientific explanations. to everyday life underwater alongside parts that can serve as a practical handbook for the discovery of legendary lands.
The writing is smart and sassy, a little tiring and overdone sometimes, but mostly the cleverness catches your lips in a smile. And like others in this space, Prophecy also revels in its share of poetry, ancient language and mystic symbols.
On the downside however, the story follows a disappointingly familiar trajectory that fantasy is wont to do: the discovery of a fascinating new place, conflict among its inhabitants and the stranger turning saviour. The creation of worlds parallel to our own is not new; Rowling and C.S. Lewis, for example, did the same. But again, like all traditional fantasy, it’s the graphic detail that breathes life into the narration here.
The characters are quite well established and stable through the tale; an unexpected surprise in a first novel. The writer seems on a roll especially creating the lovable but dim-witted Ajay, a break from the overbearing control-freak that Neha can sometimes be. But the tone of the writing shifts constantly and is a little undecided between the more formal Language of the Gods with the unabashed use of upper case and teen lingo (strange, when most of the characters are already pushing 30).
Conflicts in Prophecy are resolved quite easily and quickly, but maybe it’s because we’re so spoiled by fantasy stretching into thick books forming part of never-ending series with complicated plots and sub-plots, that we don’t appreciate straightforward stories any more!
The most surprising element though is that Prophecy often reads like a parody of itself and of its genre. So while this ‘fantasy’ world Neha discovers never really evokes the reverence that Tolkien or even Rowling did, it does gives the reader a very-Drylander view of the underwater world, which is light-hearted, objective and refreshing. Particularly Neha’s exchanges with Xerxes, the King of Gods, and the rest of the Divine Pantheon; these are not just hilarious but the frank and easy approach to it makes you feel you’re living the scene.
I’m still not a fantasy convert but I think this book’s convinced me to try some more of the genre, although not vegetarian vampires. It is the first in a two-part series by this nineteen-year old Chennai author.