Sons of Darkness is the first volume in Gourav Mohanty’s The Raag of Rta epic historical fantasy series.
Muchuk Und is a hero, which as he would say is “an honour bestowed upon you when you had killed all those who would have called you a mass murderer.” Employed by the Daevas1 to smite their enemies, Muchuk performed, if not admirably, then effectively. Having served, he expects to be paid before returning to the human realm a nigh-demigod.
The Daevas withheld one or two details of their arrangement. The first is that while Muchuk has spent ten years serving his masters, a hundred years passed in the mortal world. The second is that the Daevas have no intention of letting their bloodthirsty servant run amok on Earth. An irate Muchuk is cast into sleep everlasting. Or almost everlasting.
Twenty thousand years later.…
In a fantastic vision of ancient India, the Mathurans overthrew their monarchal rulers, establishing a republic based on justice, merit, and egalitarianism. At least in theory. In practice, those of higher castes (the priestly Namins, the warrior Ksharjas, and the merchant Drachmas) are not at all keen to see the lowborn Resht rise from their position at the very bottom of society. The economy depends on their endless, ill-compensated labor. Of course, aside from extreme entrenched inequality, all are equal. Theoretically.
The Republic falls short of the ideal in other respects. While many of its key figures, such as Senator Krishna, prefer peace to war, the mob expressed its displeasure with the outgoing royal dynasty by killing royal babies and raping queens. These queens being the daughters of Emperor Jarasandh of Magadh, a state of war exists between Mathura and Magadh.
Mathura is blessed with three vast walls, and Krishna’s cunning. However, the Empire has vast resources. Repeated failure to break through the walls to massacre the people inside only inflames the emperor’s desire to crush the Republic. The Empire only needs to win once. In the long run, the Republic is doomed, unless Krishna and his allies can deliver some particularly ingenious gambit.
Were the Republic’s situation not dire enough, there are other forces at work about which the Republic knows nothing. Oracles like Masha know that something terrible is coming. Oracles who can deliver concise, useful prognostications before dying of the treatment needed to trigger precognition are vanishingly rare. Therefore, not enough is known about the doom bearing down on the world to effectively counter it.
Across the land, various actors attempt ambitious political gambits; most of these do not play out as originally intended. The net effect is to advance conflicting agendas only very slightly, to greatly cull the list of characters readers will have to remember in volume two, and to inflict needless and humiliating misery on characters like humble Nala and highborn Draupadi. That victims might one day seek vengeance seems unthinkable to this realm’s ambitious schemers.
In the end, the Republic learns two important lessons. Firstly, that it has egregiously misjudged who its worse enemies are. Secondly, that the city has absolutely no idea what sleeps beneath it … until that figure wakes.
The above synopsis is extremely simplified. Simply listing all the characters in this novel would exceed my word count limit. A listing of all the contending factions would be almost as long. Just know that there are a lot of characters, few of them agree on what is to be done, the art of setting aside personal concerns for the greater good is nearly unknown2, and most of them will cheerfully ignore principle, decency, and possible long-term consequences if a short-term gain is within reach3. Really, if an author wants to ensure an abundance of plot, these are very useful character types to employ.
Gourav Mohanty draws on the Mahabharata for inspiration without adhering to that model one to one. Or so the foreword assures readers. I have not read the Mahabharata. The important thing is if one reads the above and thinks “that’s not how the Mahabharata goes,” that’s not carelessness but a deliberate artistic choice.
Mohanty also makes clear his admiration for George R. R. Martin and Game of Thrones in particular. Reading Martin inspired Mohanty to write his own epic grimdark fantasy series, of which this is the first volume.
As it happens, I am neither a fan of Martin’s interminable fantasy, nor of epic fantasy in general, so I am not the ideal reviewer for this. Also, reviews led me to expect more polished prose and dialogue than I found. This is a very long novel about people doing terrible things (particularly to women) for reasons they find compelling, so not a lot of fun for me.
That said, I disliked for this novel in much the same way that I dislike Game of Thrones, so it seems logical people who like one should like the other. In addition, while the novel ends as what are clearly momentous events (possibly apocalyptic) are just beginning, this volume does deliver a complete story within the two covers, which puts it one up on a lot of epic fantasies. This is very much not my thing but it may please other readers.
Sons of Darkness is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). Note that the US edition has yet to be published. Also, I am not one hundred percent sure that Apple link works.
1: Daeva is a Zoroastrian term. It’s cognate with the Sanskrit Deva, but opposite in meaning. It’s possible the author has in mind entities that aren’t quite like either the Zoroastrian demons or the Hindu gods.
2: Many (in particular kings, emperors, and other rulers) would argue that their personal ambitions are national ambitions. L’état c’est moi.
3: Which is to say, a short-sighted ambition characteristic of many rulers, of any culture, throughout history. Ask me about the role of baby-tossing in Scottish succession disputes.