Publisher: CinnamonTeal Publishing
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The Armour of God is a welcome addition to the genre of Indian fantasy as it focuses on Indian mythology and gives it a modern makeover, but as a book to be judged on its own literary merit, it falls short.
Described by author Ram Mishra as a “Science Fiction and Fantasy Crossover”, The Armour of God is the story of Karna, the modern-day reincarnation of the figure from Mahabharata and his quest to protect the most powerful weapon ever known to mankind from evil forces that threaten the world.
The Armour of God is the first part of The Chakra Trilogy. The author’s intention is to bring Indian mythology into mainstream thought and recuperate the overlooked scientific aspect. To this end, the first book takes a well-known mythological figure and re-situates him in the 21st century, where he must discover his personal and cultural roots and prepare himself, physically and mentally, for the demands of his destiny.
Mishra follows the time-honoured fantasy tradition of the monomyth- one hero’s journey of self-discovery and the ultimate battle between good and evil. Another common trope that he uses is the figure of the wise mentor a la Gandalf and Dumbledore; only here, it’s Guru Parashurama. The attempt to explain ancient mythology in terms of alien beings and advanced technical expertise is certainly interesting.
But alas, The Armour of God falls flat on too many counts. Karna is one of the blandest heroes to join the fantasy pantheon. He is a one-dimensional archetype- the thoroughly righteous and brave hero who gets over great losses rather unconvincingly. The political bent of the book is rather muddled. While Mishra shows his awareness of the academic corpus around our mythological text and even tries to partake in politics of the marginalised, the book still ends up using the simplistic binary of hero v/s villain, Karna v/s the Rakshasas. While this is a trope that has been used by every fantasy author and their grandmother, it becomes problematic when employed in the re-telling of an ancient text that still riles up blind religious fervour.
The portrayal of Mili, Karna’s girlfriend and the only live female character in the book, is another problematic area. Mili’s portrayal suffers from a severe case of patriarchal bias. Even the not-feminist-by-any-standard Tolkien allowed his token female warrior Eowyn to wield a sword and have her moment of heroic glory. And this is a book that came out in 1954! Mili exists only to provide the hero moral support and be an object of his desire and aesthetic appreciation. And eventually, to prove not just completely useless in a moment of crisis but a liability. In a world that has seen at least two waves of feminism, Mili’s character is not just bad but offensive.
Therefore, The Armour of God is a welcome addition to the genre of contemporary Indian fantasy on inasmuch as it is a means to familiarise a generation brought up on Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire with Indian mythology. As a book to be judged on its own literary merit, it falls short quite sadly.