Book Critique - Jaal (The Kaal Trilogy #1)

For reviews of other books in this series: Go here

Stars: 4 / 5

Recommendation: A rather long and winding plot involving gods, demi-gods and humans at a time when there is magic and power working alongside the eternal war that would follow.

Jaal is the first book in The Kaal Trilogy by Sangeeta Bahadur published for the first time in 2012. The book outlines the journey of Arihant across lands all the while gaining experience in how to eventually fight Lord Aushij - the Lord of Maya.

A friend of mine, Kristi, had bought this book when she was traveling in India. However, when she started reading it she said she couldn’t proceed further because she could not relate to many terms or characters. So she gave me the book to see if I could finish it for her. Well, I never say no to any book. And thus the review of the same.

After reading a few chapters I totally get why Kristi couldn’t proceed further. The entire plot is set in fictional land divided into kingdoms, surrounded by water on three sides and mountains on one side (north) - very much similar to modern day India. The characters have unusual names for an American to follow, legends and myths involving Gods and Demi-Gods would be new and also the language is quiet very ancient and old. The grammar, syntax and usage of words all tells us that author Sangeeta has spun a tale set in ancient India, perhaps, which she calls as the Continent of Hastipeeth. There were a few things I myself had to google for. No wonder poor my friend felt lost in the plot.

Anyways now back to the book. As mentioned, it is a plot involving Gods, demi-Gods and humans. Lord Aushij had been trapped in a prison of dreams by his own siblings for causing chaos on Earth, which occurred a millennia ago. However his torments doesn’t stop. And now Lord Aushij is slowly rising up in his power. Only hope for the entire mankind lies on this young warrior Arihant, who has no knowledge of his destination but strives to learn everything he can along the path. In the first book, Sangeeta takes the reader along-side Arihant in his travels and experiences while he learns some much needed answers.

It seems such a simple plot, but nothing is simple as it seems as we traverse along. Sangeeta has a myriad of characters that she introduces in the first four chapters that spins your head none the less. However, I must commend on her bravery to do so in the very first book, for it would be really hard to keep the reader hooked when so many characters are floating by. Her saving grace perhaps was that she had these characters split into prominent sub-plots floating by underneath the main plot, that way it would be easier for the reader to keep track of them.

How interesting that Democracy was the in-thing for the Janpad of Shringaali to elect their Clan Chiefs or their Leader of the Sarvakhap while Aristocracy still razed on the remaining Kingdoms. Sangeeta portrayed both types of governments in her plot all through stressing the positives and negatives of both sides subtly, almost hidden. 

Right before the book starts, Sangeeta has a map of the Continent of Hastipeeth printed for the benefit of the readers so they understand the kingdoms location as well as the surroundings. However I have to say though it is so dark in color that some of the fine print of the names of different regions are barely legible. I would have liked the map to be a little brighter or the text in white so the reader could see it more clearly.

Sangeeta also divides the plot into different sections, giving it a flow - Praarambha, the Beginning; Seeds; Curtains; Premonitions; Unfurlings and Sundown. Although the title of each section hardly reveals anything, but make a lot of sense as the pages move along.

While having Arihant and his companions converse with the Vakrini, Sangeeta uses a sort of rhyming / poem style. It took a little time before I could get a hang of this unique musical way of talking. Although not uncomfortable it will still a bit of effort to read. Not sure if every reader would like to have to put an effort to read a fiction like a normal textbook. However, it reminded me of a Telugu movie where a set of characters converse in musical language. Here is one such song from this 1988 Indian Telugu musical-drama film titled Rudraveena ( = Strings of Rage) where the characters converse musically.

Samraat Rituparna, the Emperor of Avrohan, muses that there may be a day when horses are no longer required to pull chariots. If he was a real person he wouldn’t be too far off in his musings. I would wonder what he would say if he comes out of the book and sees at the modern world. Or maybe he might consider us to be ancient…who knows. However, Sangeeta does highlight one aspect in his musings though - the curbing of women power and dividing people into castes. These two aspects cannot be hidden or ignored no matter what race or religion or region any fiction is set. However author Sangeeta mentions about aliens in an offside conversation which makes me wonder if the term "alien" was even in existence at the time period this book was set in.

Although a well-made plot with giving enough sub-plots to keep the reader interesting, I did find the read a rather taxing at times. Specially those chapters that involved elaborate descriptions of the evolution of Arihant or the places he traveled. Some of the context was totally new for me so imagining it was a bit hard.

A long and winding story that takes up the first book in the trilogy. Irrespective of what I felt about the little humps I am still excited to read the next book in the series.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Plot Reveals:

a. The different sub-plots that Sangeeta weaves in the tale of Arihant are:

i. The first sub-plot involves Maharshi Pratishravas who is bestowed upon by the deva, Marut Meghavarna, on a task of rescuing a child and keeping it safe; training the child as needed to be prepared for its destination.

ii. The second sub-plot involves Daaruk, royal armourer to Emperor Ilavarta - murdered Emperor of Empire Avrohan - and Ilavarta's son Prince Ritaayu, whom Daaruk would have to train for an ulterior purpose.

iii. The third sub-plot involves Vaagdatta, exiled ex-empress of Kozirupam Empire who had escaped Warlord Trishiras's wrath after he had killed her husband Emperor Paanimaan; and her daughter Princess Agneyi whom she is honing her and protecting her at the same time from Trishiras. 

iv. The fourth sub-plot involving the kin of Arihant themselves - Athirath, head of the clans of Janpad of Shringaali and Arihant's father; Ekdant, his older brother; Udhav, Athirath's brother; Jayant, Udhav's son; 

v. The fifth sub-plot involving Princess Raudraa who is considered the Parashu - vessel - of Lord Aushij. She is the daughter of Warlord turned Emperor Trishira of Kozirupam Empire.

b. The world had thought there would be one person who would fight off Lord Aushij, the Lord of Maya. But instead two are born identical in every way except gender and raised in totally different way. One being Arihant, raised as a younger son of a clansman and sent on a journey to learn all he can. Other, named Princess Raudraa,  being taken by Warlord Trishira to hone into a vessel for Lord Aushij. One has to see how will their fates be in the coming books.

2) Grammatical / Geographical / Location / Character / Historical Errors:

a. On Pg. 57, line 26, it should be "given to you…"

b. On Pg. 207, line 27, in the beginning it should be "uncomfortable"

c. On Pg. 225, line 23, it should be "mercy of people…"

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