Publisher: Hachette India
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Gods, Kings and Slaves, a tale by Tamil author Venketesh, is one of the few contemporary novels to deal with the events of historical South India. In this book, the author focuses on the famous siege of the city of Madurai during the time of the Pandyas.
Of late, mythological and historical fictions have been finding traction among Indian readers. Tapping rightly into this newfound interest, these genres have had several books released in the last year or so. While the Shiva trilogy from Amish found a good audience, many others like Asura, Chandragupta and Ajaya didn’t find many takers. The new entrant in this genre, Gods, Kings and Slaves: The Siege of Madurai is the story of the Pandyan Kingdom which ruled over the southern tract of India, their tryst with Malik Kafur, the eunuch-slave-general of Alauddin Khilji, and the subsequent sacking of the Madurai Meenakshi temple. I picked up this book due to my deep interest in history and also because I was yet to come across a good book on the South Indian kingdoms. R. Venketesh, who has created works in Tamil literature, debuts in English with this book and scores well with the reader.
Rightly taking a leaf out of history, the book details the political turmoil in the Pandyan lands, which arose due to the succession struggles that so often happened in many a dynasty during that age. On a parallel thread, the author takes the reader through the life of Chand Ram who will go on to become Malik Kafur, the eunuch general of Alauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate. Towards the end, these threads are brilliantly brought together, culminating in the Siege of Madurai. There are some instances which may not be historically accurate, but for the most part, the author has done a great job. Having said that, author could have avoided adding a mythical facet to the story, though it can be argued that by doing so, he created an exotic aura around the whole story.
Venketesh has masterfully weaved a tale of love, deceit, revenge, war and power struggle around the central characters and has taken the liberty of springing up some fictional characters as is the need of the story. Veera Pandya and Malik Kafur form the core characters of the story and they are given enough space to develop well. There are several other significant and insignificant characters who have been given their share of pages. Vikrama, the exiled uncle of Veera Pandya who comes back to lead the Pandyan forces against Malik Kafur is worth a mention too.
The book is wriiten in impeccable language. The addition of some more local lingo while describing events and things would have added to the ingenuity and relatability of the tale.
To summarise, Gods,Kings & Slaves is an excellent page turner which could have done with a bit more of detailing added in to the military campaigns dealt with in the book. It takes the reader to a time when religious fervor, treachery and pure valiance in the battlefield decided the fate of many kingdoms.
For further reading, fans of historical fiction might enjoy the works of Conn Iggulden, Valerio Massimo Manfredi or Alex Rutherford. These are just starters though, there’s a whole world of books out there to explore!