“You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from.”
I am a great adventurer in my mind. I have no qualms in admitting that I grew up on a steady diet of Thakumar Jhuli and Grimm's Fairy Tales. The progression to Harry Potter was natural like breathing in and out. The Vampire and Werewolves have held my attention for the longest time and so have witches and dragon flyers.
And though India has such a rich pool of folk and fairy lore, very less of this genre has been touched by contemporary writers with a modern-day flourish. So, when I got 'Tantra' in my mail, I was intrigued despite the bad cover art.
A vampire slaying NRI in Delhi! That sounded promising in the blurb.
I started reading it and though not a work of art or true craft-man-ship, I was pulled into the adventures of the New Yorker, and leather-wearing demon slayer, Anu Aggarwal - who needs Buffy when you have a Desi Girl pulling punches (errr... stakes) at the vampires. That she has a very wry and interesting sense of humor and an aunt who's bent on getting her married off, added to the 'masala curry' flavor.
To read about Anu grappling with the neo-concept of 'Dekham-Dekhai' made me laugh as much as it tickled her other Vampire-hunting Delhi partner, Amit. I was laughing at her situation till my sides ached. I sobered up only after it stuck me how almost everyone of us have gone down that path at least once in our lives.
Soon however, we are led away from the path of vampire killing and arranged marriages towards the practice and manipulation of the dark arts by Tantrics.
Anu, who is new to Indian ways, despite her childhood Vedic Hinduism classes, is a novice in Tantra and like any foreigner blurts out something about 'kinky sexual practices' and we understand - the Internet is very enlightening on that. But, she has a lot of finding out to do while she tries getting the man/Vamp who had slit her boyfriend's throat back in New York.
Anu who had set out with the grim purpose to avenge a personal tragedy, soon finds herself embroiled in a far more sinister plot that involves blood sacrifice of hundreds of innocent kids. Armed with a new resolve and warming up to Delhi hospitality (which is very indeed very warm and I can personally vouch for it!) she goes all out to find out more. Delving deeper into the heart of India that is a quivering bundle of fact, fiction, the ancient, the modern, philosophy, religion, festivals, families and mass hysteria, she finds herself shedding old inhibitions and Western beliefs as she sinks her teeth very deep indeed along with her team, by joining hands with the Vampires to protect the city!
This is one adventure that made me laugh, put me to thinking (it gets confusing in parts as too many different characters keep popping up to help Anu) and made me enjoy a lot in the process.
I'd recommend it for a light read if you like blood, gore and a heavy dose of magic and adventure!
Please keep off if you are a hard-core realist or a sap lover. This one is kick-ass funny and first in the series by debutant author, Adi. His intro reads, "Adi is a science graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from the Harvard Business School. He seems to have decided to put his education to the best use possible by writing fantasy fiction."
What I found not too nice about the book was that it delves deep into Tantra and Mantra and India and Hinduism with a flourish but, nothing much is explained. There are lots of overlaps in the descriptions and no explanations. Also, the entire cast is South Delhi, five-star coffee shop type. That made the characters a little too shallow and two-dimensional.
Also, I was looking out for Vampires being slayed however, they were soon overshadowed by the villain, the Tantra practitioner, Baba Senaka and his hundreds of unnamed acolytes who seem utterly faceless as they were nameless - merely fodder for knives for Anu and gang.
What left me looking out for the next one in the series is also that this one does not actually put any of the threads of stories that were started to rest. That was a damper to the works. But, the action is good and for a debut novel it is pretty decent and packs a lot of punches.
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