In June 2022, a grimdark fantasy brought a cast of queens, kings, priests, and assassins to a re-imagined Vedic India through kingdoms, politics, and magic. From the prologue itself, the dark tone and scope of this debut is set, and what follows doesn’t shy away from brutal and bloody gore scenes. In a complex society, various nuanced characters exist both cursed and blessed while an inevitable battle unfolds. Said to be Game of Thrones meets Mahabharata and Ramayana —and it holds true. Needless to say, it’s a pleasure to have Gourav Mohanty, author of Sons of Darkness, elaborate on why his novel is a reimagining of Vedic India, in what aspects, and what inspired this secondary world. To view more such posts by South Asian authors, make sure to check out this collaboration, More than Masala, spanning over September 2022. This blog post may contain affiliate links. To know more about them, please read my disclaimer.
Gourav Mohanty, the author of Sons of Darkness, on writing a story set in re-imagined Vedic India, the last unexplored genre of Indian literature, and inspiration behind this debut grimdark fantasy.
You know sometimes, readers or viewers of adventure often lament that there is nothing left to be discovered in this world. Invented, yes. But no more buried secrets to be excavated, no hidden islands to unearth, no unexplored ruins to delve into. Fortunately (and shockingly) that is not true of the genre of fantasy. Like the 10th century white folk, readers are now waking up in 2022 to the wonders of exotic vistas in South Asia instead of the traditional European meadows.
The tales of fantasy in ancient Indian Lore, or more appropriately, Vedic Lore has everything modern day SFF genre fans love: time dilation in the realm of Brahmlok (like Miller’s Planet in Interstellar), astras (weapons of nuclear power), chakras (think Avatar or Naruto), magical races (Nagas, Rakshasas and Vanaras), mantras (visualise Hogwarts spells) and shraps (Homerish prophetic curses), and guess what – they have existed for over four thousand years.
I think I can safely stake a claim that Vedic Literature is the Himalayan Glacier to the Ganges of Fantasy.
So why set a fantasy world in Vedic India?
One would think that with such a treasure trove of rich tales in our ancient past, the fantasy genre would be blooming in the country. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The fantasy genre is dead in India.
The existing successful works by Indian authors that skirt the borders of the fantasy, while being beautiful reads, are safe and small retellings of the Mahabharata or Ramayana that clip the wings of magic from our mythology. And I found this to be profoundly sad because our ancient texts have so much to offer.
I mean, just take a look at SFF classics. Robert Jordan was inspired by the Vedas to create the concept of Saidin and Saidar which are built on the Vedic concepts of Shakti and Shaiva. In fact, the Wheel of Time itself (along with the ideas of reincarnation and circular Ages) is almost exclusively a Vedic concept. Even when it comes to movies, the legendary Matrix was a sci-fi rendition of the Vedic concept of Maya, an illusion said to be broken only by penance and salvation in Vedic mythos — a concept best summarised by the red pill in that excellent movie.
In the context of exotic vistas, I seek to be a humble merchant of tales, eager to give the world a glimpse of our desi riches. It is this quest that drove me to write Sons of Darkness for after reading A Song of Ice and Fire, I was dismayed to find India did not have any player to put forth in the arena of fantasy literature by a local author. Fortunately, we were reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison in law school then, and I came across this quote:
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.“
So, there I was: Bilbo Bagginsing with Calliope on my shoulders through the ancient world described in the Mahabharata. My quest: To craft an immersive worldbuilding experience in the form of Aryavrat with a cocktail of real and fictional geography, linguistics, cultures, history and social structures. I started out by writing for myself, to see the world I wished I could read about on parchment. Over the years, Sons Of Darkness grew – became vast and moving as if filled with a life of its own, and before I knew it the dust of my dreams had crystallised into paperbacks.
Sons of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty
Some ballads are inked in blood.
Bled dry by violent confrontations with the Magadhan Empire, the Mathuran Republic simmers on the brink of oblivion. Krishna and Satyabhama have put their plans in motion within and beyond the Republic’s blood-soaked borders to protect it from annihilation. But they will soon discover that neither gold nor alliances last forever.
They are however not alone in this game.
Mati, Pirate-Princess of Kalinga, has decided to mend her ways to be a good wife. But old habits die hard, especially when one habitually uses murder to settle old scores. Brooding but beautiful Karna hopes to bury his brutal past but finds that destiny is a miser when it comes to giving second chances. The crippled hero-turned-torturer Shakuni limps through the path of daggers that is politics only to find his foes multiply, leaving little time for vengeance.
Their lives are about to become very difficult for a cast of sinister queens, naive kings, pious assassins and ravenous priests are converging where the Son of Darkness is prophesied to rise, even as forgotten Gods prepare to play their hand.
Why is Sons of Darkness a Re-Imagining of Vedic India.
The reason why Sons of Darkness is a re-imagining of Vedic India is because it isn’t a mere retelling of an ancient tale but rather a completely new tale with familiar characters and new characters. Even beyond this simple reason is the USP that it does not project ancient India again as a village stuck in the Age of Wheel – obsessed with wooden arrows and hermits. I mean, c’mon.
Our myths boast of non-linear time, flying machines, foetal incubation, test-tube babies and cloning. Such a golden period cannot be viewed from the colonial lens of mud-huts and snake charmers. No. It just does not make sense. So, the world I created boasts of swords, morningstars, battle-axes and war-hammers, castles, siege engines, ports and temples, all festering in a vibrant civilization whose underbelly seethes with magic, murder and mayhem.
The other reason why I wanted to reimagine Vedic India was because the concept of India has always been associated with a Gandhian sense of righteousness, purity and self-sacrifice, and somehow this has seeped into our local mytho-retellings which keep churning out good vs evil tropes. That is what I suppose I wanted to change.
Vedicness of Sons of Darkness.
That does not however take away from the Vedicness of the book. For instance, take the example of the assassin’s apprentice in this saga. The concepts in Vedic rituals of śānti (tranquilizing), vaśīkaraṇa (subjugating), stambhana (immobilising), mohana (bewildering), vidveṣana (dissent), uccāṭana (eradicating), ākarṣaṇa (attracting) and murder (mārana) have always existed. But I used them to create a training routine for the said apprentice’s journey through the series.
In a similar vein, I crafted the magic system on the backbone of chakras, focal points of energy in a human body, and their activation using yoga and mandalas. Yoga is India’s gift to the world, and I am hoping the yogic-magic system will be my ‘certified fresh’ contribution to the grand lore of fantasy that will give readers something new to devour.
Parting Note: Before this article starts reading like a transcript of a TedTalk, I want to conclude by saying that Dark Epic Fantasy is Indian literature’s last unexplored genre, and I want Sons of Darkness to be its sizzling, scintillating debutante. In a way, all I can hope for is that when it comes to ancient lore, Sons Of Darkness will be to India what The Poppy War is to China.
Author, Lawyer, Stand Up Comedian, Papercut Survivor, Pretend Swordfighter, Recovering Burgers Addict. As evident, his life has many tabs open. Though he was doing well as a lawyer in Mumbai, he is now pursuing the infinitely more unattainable dream of being the first ‘epic fantasy novelist’ of India. A connoisseur of mythologies and momos, he has earned numerous scholarships in his time at law school, one of which took him to the castles of Europe. Ever since, he has been drawn to conjuring a world where Vedic India meets Medieval Renaissance. Sons of Darkness is Gourav’s first novel. Give it a shot for the author owes considerable gold to goblins. You can find him at gouravmohanty.com or @gouravmohanty7 on Twitter or @thekingbeyongthewall on Instagram!
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Everything stated in this post is independent of any compensation, and the guest writer’s comments and thoughts are solely their opinion; the formatting was done by the blogger but no changes were made in text.