(Warner Aspect, $24.95, 392 pages, hardcover; published in September 2003.)
The Sanskrit epic poem The Ramayana details thelife of the Indian hero Rama, a prince of the city of Ayodhya and an incarnation of the god Vishnu. It's filled with intense melodrama, spectacular battles, and terrifying monsters. Ashok Banker's Prince of Ayodhya begins a multivolume adaptation of that classic Vedic text.
Prince of Ayodhya is the first novel in the author's ambitious project of retelling the great myths of India in the idiom of prose epic fantasy. Judging by this first offering, Banker's oeuvre-in-the-making is likely to become an essential cornerstone of fantasy.
The story takes place a generation after the end of the war between humanity and the demonic Asuras. War threatens to erupt once again, and human spies loyal to the Asura cause have infiltrated Ayodhya.
The language is heavily peppered with words from Indian languages, and the result is an almost musical lyricism. Banker is especially gifted at describing mythic conflicts; most spectactularly, the battle between Rama and the forces of the giant Tataka is an awesome moment, deftly imagined and described.
Beyond the legendary heroics and the suspense of a looming war, Prince of Ayodhya comes alive because of its rich tapestry of characters and relationships. The cast is large, but every character, from the most gaudily monstrous to the most vulnerably fragile, is fascinating.
There's a deep tenderness that suffuses this novel. A particularly moving moment is when we realize that a wounded doe that Rama saves from poachers is in fact an enemy demon in disguise. She had previously thought all humans callous and cruel, but Rama's act of compassion challenges her worldview.
Most epic fantasies revisit again and again the same areas of Celtic and British folklore; it's refreshing to have the genre so vigorously reimagined through a different mythic template.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 16 August 2003, 31 October 2003