Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Revenge of Kaivalya
*This review was written based on a copy of the novel provided by the author.*
Nothing can be as lethal as a woman scorned. Sumana Khan has penned a story that will keep you glued to your seat until the last page. At places you will find yourself hypnotized, immobile. Just when you think it’s getting too scary and you don’t want to turn the page, your curiosity gets the better of you and you willingly submit yourself to the fear on the next page.
Kaivalya was a powerful soul who was unable to stop the defeat of the last king of the Vijayanagara empire. Spurned by a man with whom she was in love, she swears revenge. A revenge that had to wait for several centuries for the right opportunity.
It all starts with an innocent tribal, Kencha. His unnatural death foxes the local police who had never seen such a case in their lives. By the time an engraved message on Kencha’s back is decoded, the  vendetta has already reached its apex.
The mystery of Kencha’s death deepens as the forest officer Dhruv gets the meaning of the message, ‘Curse of Kaivalya. 26-January-1565…’
Kaivalya’s soul begins its vendetta.

Sumana Khan’s writing is breathtaking. Her words enact the scene in front of your eyes. While reading the description of the Western Ghats I saw myself standing in the midst of the mountains, feeling the rain on my skin. 

To complement the scary narrative, Sumana uses four-dimensional prose. You not only read, you see and hear and smell whatever the characters see, hear and smell. The reader is completely hooked, trying to figure out why it is happening. You will never be satisfied till you finish reading the book to the end.

Sumana's research on forest life is meticulous and you can visualise Kencha’s treks as he searches for King Cobras to tag. Kencha’s jungle instincts cannot be found on Google. Though Sumana credits the National Geographic, one really has to be in tune with nature to grasp it’s secrets. 

Her knowledge of the river Hemavathi and its course through the mountains is equally brilliant. And the human side of Elephants. Is there anything Sumana doesn't know? And knowing is not enough, she's written each and every part with just that touch of emotion which will melt your heart. Hats off to Sumana.
This is the first Indian novel where I read an intricate web of normal, everyday people surrounded by paranormal activity and their fight to the finish. None of them know that they are struggling to shake themselves off an event that happened centuries ago. 

However, the structure of the novel is a little wayward. Though the story is good, the events are loosely constructed. For example, the etching on Kencha’s back is translated as ‘Curse of Kaivalya. 26-January-1565.’ Now anyone who lived in 1565 (read Kaivalya) will absolutely have no idea that the year was 1565 because the Gregorian calendar did not really catch up with Indians until after the 1757 battle of Plassey in which Warren Hastings stamped the seal of British rule in India.
The reason for Kaivalya’s revenge, her being spurned by Neelakanta, is very weak. Kaivalya could have taken revenge on Neelakanta right there in 1565. She had the power, and Neelakanta was a mere mortal. I did not understand why Kaivalya chose to destroy herself when she could have destroyed Neelakanta who was within striking distance. Again, the connection between Kaivalya's powers and the battle of Thalikote are completely unrelated because neither do we see Kaivalya attempting to stop the battle, neither does the battle have any direct influence on Kaivalya's life.

Midway, the novel states that Kaivalya’s existence is tied up with a silver pendant and whoever wears the pendant becomes possessed by Kaivalya’s soul. But did Kaivalya’s soul not need the pendant when it comes to Neel’s house and moves the clock?
The characters of the novel, though unique and interesting, are very conveniently designed to move the story ahead. They seem very robotic as if they were programmed to do what they were doing. They do not have a life of their own. The novel leans too much on coincidences.

Like Professor Dikshit just happens to know everything about the battle of Thalikote, right from the moment Dhruv explains the mystery around Kencha’s death. This is January 1. On January 9, Tara's Research Team head happens to send her an ancient manuscript regarding a song sung to appease Kaivalya. Too much of a coincidence.

Neel falls head over heels in love with a married Arundhati, but when he meets Shakti, suddenly shifts her loyalties to her. Was the love for Arundhati so superficial? Maybe this happens, but this makes Neel a shallow character two times over -  first for Arundhati and then for Shakti. Maatchu the villain is extremely filmi. Even if one agrees that such people do exist, why devote so many chapters to a character whose only purpose is to bring Neel and Momo to Kaivalya?
Why does Daniel, an American, become so emotional on Kencha’s death? Agreed that he is human after all, but in Western culture emotions are more subdued and controlled. They  are not given to emotional outbursts, especially for someone like Kencha who they had known for only 6 months at the most. Agreed that Kencha had saved Daniel’s life, but his reaction to Kencha’s death is very very Indian.
The bane of the book are the lengthy back-stories attached to each character. Dhruv has a back story, Tara has a back story, Maatchu has a back story.  In spite of the chapters dedicated to each character, many questions are unanswered:
Do not Dr Bala and Nithya have any other work than to move around in their mobile hospital and run to wherever and whoever asks them for help?
Dr Bala knows a lot about medicine but he also seems to know a lot about forensics - the mirror in Shivranjini's breaks and Dr Bala pieces the jigsaw puzzle together like a police officer.
Why does the ghost want Shivranjini to pick up the pendant? So she could travel to the Bhat’s house? Then how did she travel to Neel’s house?
How does Aru get the same keen sense of smell that Kencha has?
Till the hospital scene, the ghost/shadow is only seen through eyes of others. Now the shadow abruptly gets an identity and her thought process is thrown open to the readers.
Why does Parmesha not do anything about the  bad smell in the hospital? He should know that bad smells mean either death or decay. Why doesn’t he investigate where the bad smell was coming from? Why only record the fact?
Dr Bala and Nithya recommend Shivranjini’s hospitalization but they themselves never visit the hospital. 
While Kaivalya’s ghost wreaks havoc in the lives of the characters, in the end Shiva suddenly appears and sets everything right. I have always upheld the theory that if a character suddenly props up at the end of the book it dampens the spirit of the book and that happens here too.
Sumana Khan’s storytelling prowess is so great that in spite of these flaws I couldn’t leave the book half-read. I had to complete it. I had to know the end. There are very few writers who have this gift and Sumana definitely counts among them.
If only the loose ends were tied up properly, this novel would have been on a totally different level altogether. Still, it's definitely a good read.

The Revenge of Kaivalya by Sumana Khan

The Blurb

Deep within the womb-like forests of the Western Ghats, an entity manifests itself at the malevolent moment when the ocean rises to devour hundreds of thousands. Kencha, an unwitting witness to Its birth, is soon found dead – his body branded with a strange message written in Halegannada, an ancient version of modern Kannada. Even as Dhruv Kaveriappa, Chief Conservator of Forests - Hassan division investigates Kencha’s death, he senses an unseen danger in the forests of Kukke, Bisle and Sakleshpura. Animals drop dead; plants wither away and just as he feared, the forest claims its first victim. Shivaranjini, on vacation in Sakleshpura, suffers a devastating tonic-clonic seizure moments after she returns from a visit to the forest. Soon, she begins to exhibit a bizarre personality disorder. Perhaps there is an outbreak of an unknown rabies-like disease? Or, as ridiculous as it seems, could it be a case of tantric witchcraft? 

The truth unfolds in a dizzying maelstrom of events - a truth far too terrifying to comprehend

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Meet the author

The Author's Thoughts

In the early stages of my manuscript, I knew the title of my novel had to be the name of the principal character. And it could not be just any name. It had to fit into the storyline - from a time perspective, as well as setting the atmosphere. It had to sound ancient and also define the character. Tall order!

As I read up on the history of Vijayanagara, I hoped to come across a good, strong name...but history, largely, is about men and their wars and conquests. I hoped to select a name from our puranas. But nothing clicked. What about our stotras? Maybe the lalitha sahasranama? Or ashtalakshmi stotra? One evening I sat mulling on 'Kausalya'...thanks to the most famous line 'Kausalya supraja Rama purva sandhya pravarthathe' from the Suprabhata :) I went to bed with that line in my head.

The next morning, somehow, ‘Kausalya’ had transformed to ‘Kaivalya’. I did not remember coming across the name in any of my previous research. Curious, I looked up what ‘Kaivalya’ stood for. And was fascinated.   Read More ........
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Sundari Venkatraman said...

Wow Neelesh, another superb review. And you have caught all the loopholes that never struck me. Have you ever considered the role of an editor? Even when you reviewed my book, you mentioned about 'horse-riding' that I could have expanded on. I am thoroughly impressed.

Njkinny said...

Nicely reviewed Neelesh..Now I havent read the book but it does sound very promising..
Will check it out now.. :)

-Nikita @Njkinny's World of Books & Stuff

Unknown said...

Woo...nice review. Would love to read the book,but horror is a genre which scares the hell out of me..! Exhaustive review.

Moonbeam said...

Thank you for such a detailed review Neelesh. I am quite touched by your effort, your passion in books and in helping authors. I hope to discuss all these superb points in more detail sometime...:)

From the heart-need said...

Thank you Sundari, Nikita, Manogna. Moonbeam (Sumana, I presume) look forward to that discussion. I have a lot to learn from you.