My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Within the first 100 pages, I was haunted by the feeling that Amish Tripathi probably had the following written on a post-it that he stuck prominently to his screen when writing this book:
1) Tie up all loose ends!
2) Rationalize the legend and all actions around him! Everything must be given a scientific reason, nothing can be attributed to supernatural/superhuman possibilities.
3) Complete the story! Since you promised a trilogy, discovering that there is enough material for a fourth book is a no-no!
4) Retain the realism and passion of the first two books! The Secret of the Nagas (Shiva Trilogy, #2) slipped a little bit from the high standards that The Immortals of Meluha set, so compensate… compensate!
I think the author prioritized #1 so much, that he traded off some of the other priorities, with the end-result being that the book ended up a little flatter than the first two, and the overall effect was just a little disappointing. However, to the author’s credit, to pull off a story of this quality is in itself a huge achievement, and the Shiva series raises the bar higher than any Indian fiction has achieved in the fantasy/mythology space in a long time.
Part of the disappointment for me, is due to my background as a science fiction fan. The distinction between quality sci-fi and pulp sci-fi is the plausibility of the fantastic science described in various situations. I appreciate Amish Tripathi‘s commitment towards rationalizing the fantastic, but to the average scientific, some of the scientific stuff is even more far-fetched and implausible than the super-hero stuff he seeks to avoid at all costs. (view spoiler)[It would probably have left a less bitter taste in my mouth if Shiva was eventually discovered to have a few “powers” that made him marginally super-human, than to read about how he “detonates” a nuclear fusion reaction weapon with a fire-arrow! Huh… WHAT? My thoughts exactly… (hide spoiler)]
Some of the sub-plot twists were simply weird, I thought this came from trying to tell too many stories simultaneously. Some stories, or sub-stories – if there is such a thing, have a life of their own, and tend to hijack the plot if you succumb to the temptation of letting them take themselves to a “logical end”. A good example of how this can be handled, is The Lord of the Rings, where the author simply reduces the character-count to a much more manageable list. The Dune series also suffered from the same over-characterization that this book suffers from, with similar results.
There were brilliant moments in the story, moments where I felt the pace was as gripping as in the previous books, and these parts hold the book together for the sometimes heavy 535 pages. But the ratio of “number of pages read per brilliant moment”, is simply lower as compared to the previous two books. This is probably an example of the predecessors leaving too high a bar for the last instalment to leap over!
All in all, this will go down as one of the best book series I have consumed, and I look forward to reading the three books back-to-back. I look forward to what Amish will come up with next, considering the clear hint he drops about the “Mahabaratha”. Bring it on…