My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I give 7/ 10 stars to “The Prince of Patliputra” by Shreyas Bhave published by Leadstart Publishing.
This is book one of “Asoka trilogy”. This is a fictionalized account of Mauryan rule’s first three rulers. This has used names of historical characters but it is far from true history as I have read. So I read it as historical fiction. I advise every reader to read it as fiction to enjoy fully, otherwise you will keep on comparing with history and will remain unsatisfied.
In the beginning it refers to The Mudrarakshasa which is a historical play in Sanskrit by Vishakhadatta that narrates the ascent of the king Chandragupta Maurya ( 324 -297 BC), the founder of Mauryan Dynsaty, to power in India. Second is The Ashokavadana ("Narrative of Ashoka") is an Indian Sanskrit-language text that describes the birth and reign of the Maurya Emperor Ashoka. It contains legends as well as historical narratives, and glorifies Ashoka as a Buddhist emperor whose only ambition was to spread Buddhism far and wide.
The story starts with a reference to a secret society called “Ancient Brahmincal order”. They want to kill Asoka the prince of Patliputra for reasons unknown. Fifty years before they wanted Chandragupta, his granddad, the Raja of Taxila dead. Sushem and Tissa (Vittasoka who is 7 year old) are sons of Maharaja Bindusar. Bindusar is old and sick and has 100 sons. Only three are serious contenders for succession. Apart from these two Asoka is the third one but he is not pure Kshatriya, as his mother is Vaisya. 50 years ago there is Greek invasion by Alexendra the great. Local rulers like Ambhi, Puru and Dhanananda are busy in infighting. Chankya is very pained to see all this and he wants to make Bhartavarsha safe, secure, united and prosperous. He mentors a talented person Chandragupt Maruya to take on Greeks and unite whole of India. This story is told in alternate chapters and story keeps moving 50 years back and forth. Presently Sushem is the strongest contender for throne and Asoka is not considered worthy. Chankya is very old now and runs a brothel on outskirts with changed name of Kautilya. Bindusar never liked him and due to a mistake of Radhagupt (steward of Bindusar) he is thrown out. However Radhagupt is repenting and seeks guidance of Chankya to make Bharat great again. They both decide to make a plan for ascension of Asoka to the throne. Meanwhile there is a fatal attack on Asoka and a girl named Devi rescues him. Asoka falls for Devi. Bindusar sends Asoka to Avanti to quell the rebellion and there he finds out that Devi is daughter of Buddhist guild master Hardeo. The story of Part I ends at impending invasion by Chandragupta and Sushem.
The book is enticing and keeps you hooked. The language used is lucid and has no grammatical mistakes. The narrative technique used is back and forth pendulum like movements in time. This also shows a parallels between life of Chandragupta and Chankya and Asoka and Radhagupt respectively. It is indeed true that history repeats itself. The same story of power, conspiracies and greed is repeated time and again. The general public also takes side based on perception. Army is a tool of oppression in the hands of ruling elites. This is explained beautifully as below:
“But what is a better livelihood? The peasant has, by observation of nobles, created an ideal which he is trying to achieve. At this point, one can ask the question why the peasants don’t band together to bring the nobles down, taking their place through sheer strength of numbers. The answer to this question is that such type of a rebellion again requires a leader, which must come from the peasants themselves. But obviously there won’t be just one contender for this post. There will be several, which will again lead to chaos. The kings and nobles rule because the common people let them. The kings depend on the peasants for food and the peasants depend upon the kings for protection. The standing army is faithful to the Raja because the Raja lets them enjoy a specific position in return for their services. The whole system is perfect, except for the fact that the Raja can’t train his son to be a better Raja, because most of the time, the Raja is himself not an epitome of the ideal.”
“That is exactly why I have come to you.” I said. “Only Maharaja Dhanananda’s army has what it takes to stop the Greeks.”
“But do you know how this army is used?” Rakshasa asked. “It is used to rule over the people. It is by the tyranny of the army that Dhanananda rules Magadha. All his subjects hate him; he keeps putting men of his own dynasty in official places, and keeps ruling with the might of his army.” He tapped on the table for effect. “If Dhanananda, as you say, was to take his army, and march northwest, there would be a big rebellion here. The people would rise against their evil masters. The present truce that is maintained by the presence of the army here would be dissolved.”
The society was divided badly along caste lines. Only Kshatriyas or Brahmins were considered worthy to rule. The secret society is established for this end. Avarak does baptism of Chankya and it is swore thus:
“I (Chankya) kept reciting as Avarak spoke, “That I shall take upon myself the prime responsibilities for the conservation of our Arya race, and its age-old religion. I shall strive to maintain the caste system of us Aryas. Those who strive to disrupt these age-old principles shall be my sworn enemies. I shall fight against them with all my strength and that will be the only aim of my life. I vow to stand again heretics of all kind and use whichever force necessary to destroy them.” Avarak led again. I followed. “Whenever the established order of society is disturbed, I vow to rise to make things right again. Chaos is my enemy. The trinities of Brahma Vishnu Mahesh are my Gods. I vow to fight for what is correct and hereby I am inducted into this Order for life.”
This is a very captivating novel, a real page turner. It keeps you engrossed even though everybody knows the story by heart. But still how is more important that what which everybody knows. In this Shreyas gets full marks.
However, the disconnect with history sometimes irks and I had to keep reminding myself that this is a fiction. This is like a Dan Brown or James Rollins novel where you cannot differentiate between fact and fiction. But still this is only fiction. The exchanges between Devi and Asoka are fun but sometimes all those winking (wink, wink and more wink) irritated me. Even in today’s generation nobody winks so much (except baba Ramdev ;) of course) whereas here we are talking of about 300 years BC.
So 7 stars (4 stars deducted for last para and 1 additional star for debut effort) out of 10. Eagerly waiting for book two of the trilogy.
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