This blog, Fanna for Books, has often reiterated its eclectic reading and reviewing choices but there’s no doubt that a pattern can be seen when majority of the books mentioned on this blog are of the fantasy genre. It truly is a genre that lets you dream, lets you imagine any and everything. Especially when it takes inspiration from stories that have always existed, i.e., folklore, epics, and myths. Fantasy is a glorious escape, and Fantasy Book Critic is a blog that gives the brightest spotlight to these stories and their authors. Needless to say, it’s a pleasure to have one of the blog’s members, Mihir, share six fantasy novels inspired by Indian mythology and lore that can be a great introduction to the Indian fantasy space for non-desi readers. To view more such posts centred around South Asian authors, make sure to check out this collaboration, More than Masala, spanning over September 2022.
Mihir, from ‘Fantasy Book Critic’, Recommends Six Indian Fantasy Books Inspired by Mythology & Lore
As Indian fantasy fans, we have had slim pickings in the epic fantasy genre. However, since the early 2000s, there have been a few South Asian Fantasy authors who have written some terrific stories. Plus they utilize Indian mythology & lore to create stories that as an Indian, were highly appealing. Today I wish to highlight a few of these series/books which I think are worthy of being read as well as checked out by non-desi fantasy readers So in random order, here we go!
The Gameworld Trilogy by Samit Basu
This trilogy is quite a unique one as the author took Hindu mythology and combined it in a very savvy way with the epic fantasy tropes of the 90s. The story begins in a chaotic fashion and then goes to include quite a few aspects of western literary titles (the opening lines of the first chapter bring to mind both Alice in Wonderland & The Hobbit for starters). Samit Basu really uses all sorts of prophecy tropes and then deconstructs them superbly. With a Prattchett-esque flair, his world consists of ridiculous creatures as well as terrifying ones from mythologies all over the world.
The story while starting out as a regular epic fantasy takes a wild turn with the absurd and a lot of meta commentary. This trilogy is definitely not for the newbies to fantasy as they might miss a lot of literary allusions & meta references, but for those who are looking for something interesting and one that merges Terry Prattchett’s zany commentary with Roger Zelazny’s mythology-based fantasy. The Gameworld Trilogy is a South Asian cult classic that needs to be read more widely.
Mrityunjaya (The Death Conqueror) by Shivaji Sawant
The English translation of this Marathi classic is the holy grail of Indian mythological fantasy. To my mind, this is possibly the best speculative fiction book which has come out of South Asia. Possibly even rivals the best that Asian speculative fiction has to offer. This is a semi-autobiographical take on one of the most tragic individuals to have ever existed. This book is about the glorious and calamitous life of Karna from the epic Mahabharata. This standalone book is divided into nine sections with four of them being narrated by Karna and the remaining five narrated singularly by Duryodhana (his best friend), Kunti [his biological mother], Vrishali [Karna’s first love and wife], Shon [his younger brother] & Lord Krishna.
This English translation of a Hindi translation of an originally Marathi book might not seem to be the best-translated book but do not be fooled. This book is a wonderful told story of a warrior whose life was ruined by fate repeatedly, yet never gave up and strove ever hard to give his family and friends everything that he could. This book has everything any fantasy fan could ask for and more, plus the ending is such a climatic one that it would rival the best that David Gemmell or John Gwynne have written.
The Palace Of Illusions by Chita B. Divakaruni
I have to admit, I’m partial to the Mahabharata and hence this book by Chitra B. Divakaruni was another must-read for me. This standalone book is a feminist retelling of the Mahabharata by focusing the story through the lens of Draupadi solely. Born via a yagna (fire ceremony), Draupadi and her twin brother Dhristadyumna were fated to be harbingers of fate, determining a lot for various souls and sundry. Chitra B. Divakaruni paints a beautiful story and gives Draupadi a voice that is haunting and yet powerful. It is a story that takes a proud character from the Hindu epic and gives her a voice that was not present in the original epic.
Draupadi or Panchali as she is referred to throughout the story is a woman who constantly struggles against the constraints that fate, family and fortune have placed on her. She balances the attention that Krishna places on her, versus her husbands’ demands and finally her true love. It is a story that takes quite a few liberties with the original epic and yet still keeps faith with its spirit. This story is rumoured to be adapted into a Bollywood movie starring Deepika Padukone and I for one cannot wait to see it come to fruition.
These Savage Shores by Ram V. & (Illustrator) Sumit Kumar
This graphic novel is a dark but lyrical historical fantasy story that’s set in middle of the 18th century and focuses on the topic of monsters. Sumit Kumar gorgeously illustrates the story and the artwork enhances the story incredibly. It also focuses on the English colonisation of India and how even among the supernatural world, the Far East is thought to be ripe for expansion.
In part a horror story, and in part a love story, These Savage Shores is a story that effectively utilizes a minor Hindu mythological entity and gloriously builds the story around that person. We also get to meet Tipu Sultan as a young boy and it was a fascinating touch to the story. Overall, this story is a brilliant deconstruction of gothic horror and European colonisation. Give this one a try and you won’t regret it, historical fantasy meets horror with a superb illustrative eye.
The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi
One has to hand it to Amish Tripathi, he revolutionized the Indian reading scene with the release of his Shiva trilogy. This trilogy reimagines Lord Shiva as a person who is of Tibetan origin and his adventures in Vedic India. This trilogy is a fast paced one that combines modern vernacular language and concepts within an epic fantasy world that’s based on ancient India. However, this ancient India is rife with magic, astras (technological weapons) as well as other mythological races. There is a magical prophecy as well as epic action sequences and a fast paced plot that makes the readers keep the pages turning constantly. This series definitely introduced many an Indian reader to the concept of quick paced fantasy similarly to what Terry Brooks did in the early 80s.
I would recommend it for the fun it promises as well as the ease with which Amish Tripathi enmeshes Hindu mythology within an epic fantasy lens. His authenticity sparkles through easily and marks him as an author that is very much within the vein of Terry Brooks and R. A. Salvatore.
The Devourers by Indra Das
This was a unique literary fantasy story mixed in with historical fantasy & horror. Part mystery with a dual timeline, this debut novel focuses more on the literary aspect of storytelling while also dealing with gender norms, societal customs and of course personal relationships that can take a turn to the savage. The writing style while being more akin to Amitav Ghosh than say Christian Cameron (this is no criticism) made this a unique story. For those looking to find the connection between werewolves, gender identity, and historical India should make a beeline for this debut.
In addition, here are some recent debutantes that you all need to checkout: Tasha Suri, Vaishnavi Patel, Geetha Krishnan, Gourav Mohanty, R.R. Virdi, Aparna Verma, and Kritika H. Rao.
Born and raised in Mumbai, India. Mihir Wanchoo is a physician and a Masters graduate. He is an avid book collector and longtime reader of fantasy, thrillers and Indian mythology with additional interests in historical fiction and urban fantasy.
Favorite writers include Jeffrey Deaver, John Connolly, David Gemmell, Dyrk Ashton, James Clemens/Rollins, Craig Schaefer, Rachel Aaron, Rob J. Hayes, Richard Nell,Ilona Andrews and many others.
Mihir currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with his family, and is ever looking forward to discovering new authors and old books. You can find him on Twitter at @FantasyBookCrit!
N O T E
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.