If one has been inundated by supernatural spin-offs in the form of books or popular television shows such as True Blood or Vampire Diaries, Sukanya Venkatraghavan’s debut book Dark Things (Hachette, Rs 350) will evoke, at first surmise, a vaguely familiar, if tiresome, sentiment.
This world is replete with magical beings, except their world functions as an alternate realm that feels somewhat between a dream and a memory. Reminiscent of the said spin-offs in the Western popular culture, Venkatraghavan’s inspiration comes richly layered as well, with complex mythological details and familiar characters, such as the Indian folkloric beings — yakshis, apsaras and gandharvas. However, the sameness stops there. The author deftly spins an intricate yarn of plots, characters, and, most significantly, an atmosphere that is a far cry from the usual gothic, romantic parables that aim to tantalise but end up boring you.
Dark Thing’s protagonist is Ardra, a Yakshi known, just like her kind, to lure men, kill and steal secrets to feed the power of her evil mistress and leader, Hera. During one of her many “assignments”, Ardra chances upon a human, Dwai, who, unlike most of her victims, survives.
That’s when her humdrum 500-year-old existence spins out of control. Until then, she had never questioned her, or her kind’s, unflinching adoration for Hera, who, in her lust for power, is plotting to wreak havoc on the universe. As the story unfurls, Ardra chances upon more mythical beings that she thought were made-up stories. Dara, a sabre-wielding monster-slayer designed to kill monsters like Ardra, refuses to kill her. Together with Dara and Dwai, Ardra must embark on a journey to not only stop Hera but also to reveal new worlds and forgotten creatures.
The good thing about Dark Thing is that it does not have many of the trappings of the fantasy genre. Even though the story borrows heavily on oft-read and heard childhood stories and suffers briefly from Ardra’s constant inner monologues, the world created here breaks down linearities. It is quite a taut read, with more twists than most predictable series that drag on and on.
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