Ashok K. Banker is one of the pioneers that made mythological fiction popular amongst the young readers in India. This Ramayana and Mahabharata series is read and adored by plenty. Now that Ashok K. Banker has delved into historical fiction and what better subject to write about than the lion of Maurya itself?
Ashoka is a historical figure about whom there’s more unknown than known. It was a pleasure to hold the book on a historical icon by the author. Although somehow the book failed to meet my expectations, it has in no way questioned the credibility of the author.
In his lifetime, Ashoka fought a lot many wars and came to be known as the Lion of Maurya. The cover page exploits the legendary battles, and the figure of lion dramatizes the cover page. The colours are dull but the temperament is seen precisely. The cover page overall is decent. Not the best of works, but not horrific either.
Ashoka is a prince like no other. He likes to fight in akhada to test himself. He is attentive, has lighting fast reflexes, measures two steps ahead, is extremely emotional, and loves his family like any man should. Ashoka’s disinterest in the throne sets him apart from his other brothers who would not hesitate to slaughter their own kin to keep the throne for themselves.
There are other characters in the book such as King Bindusara, Queen Shubhadrangi, Queen Mother, and Kautilya.
Each character has a part to play, but they are not delved deep into. It is the story of Ashoka.
The story begins with a Lacchavi assassin entering the city of Pataliputra with a plan to execute the king. Ashoka enters an akhada to fight like a common man. During the course of time it is revealed that they had set their feet in the state to assassinate the king.
It is the story of Ashoka, his love for his family, and the country. It is his journey of bringing the offenders to their fate. His multiple faces are revealed throughout the book. The author describes the boy unlike how we have been told about before. He is not only a loyal student and a loving son, but also a passionate lover who goes through a heartbreak quite early in life.
There are many aspects of his life explored in the book which have not been talked about earlier, such as incest and polygamy, the result of multiples marriages of the king in the family, etc.
The story can be challenged by many as more fictional than historical. And to justify himself, the author begins with a dialogue where he calls ‘history’ a sexist phrase. History is not static and his attempt to write Ashoka’s story is to explore possible happenings. It may not be what a historical reader may like, but those who enjoy a bit of drama with history are going to like the tale.
Narration is the strong arm of the book. The storytelling makes the book more bearable. Sentences such as ‘more gold in a Pataliputra’s merchant’s arse than in the vaults of any other city’ to describe the city keep the readers engaged. Those who adore Ashoka as a ruler are going to love the descriptions of him by the author.
The cover page is interesting. Ashoka as a character is interesting to read about. And so is Kautilya. The content is engaging. The narration is powerful.
The book is short. Right when the story starts getting interesting the book ends. It is probably far from actual history and it may annoy those who picked up the book looking for an interesting history book by their favourite mythology writer.
Overall it is a good book, but not as good as expected.
Whom do I recommend this to
This is for those who have not read anything on Ashoka before. Those who have may want to stay clear of this one.
Thrones are thrones. Ambition is ambition. The colour or race doesn’t change basic human nature.
…true worth of an emperor is measured by the number of attempts on his life.
Violence is a two-edged blade.
Politics makes enemies friends, if only for a while.
It was the way the world worked: the rich abused and exploited. The poor took their money and endured.
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