Historical fiction usually makes history more interesting and leads the reader into the social fabric of that period. The reader can visualize through the descriptive passages how history unfolds and highlights the prosperity and intrigues of a kingdom and its rulers. To this extent Devika has vividly described the events leading to the coronation and reign of the young king HarshaVardhana of the kingdom of Thanesar and Kanauj. The story opens to ‘the sound of hooves thundering on the dry road’ and the young princess Rajyasri’s curiosity to know who the riders were and what brought them to her father’s kingdom. Her close companion Patralata tries to stop her so also her mother’s faithful nurse Vela, who sarcastically asks her whether she would like to help her father rule the kingdom. She resents this and typical of a fourteen–year-old , tells Vela with defiance that someday she may. Rajyasri’s confidence that she would one day rule the Kingdom seemed very natural.
Yet, it is interesting to note that when Rajyasri snaps at Vela for telling her that she was not behaving like a princess she immediately realizes that she has hurt her. She does not hesitate to apologize. It highlights the respect for the elders even though she was royalty. Many such instances in the book highlight numerous values, some steeped in traditions and some more contemporary in their outlook. The growing up of the siblings in the palace is described in detail by the author. There is friendship, love and arguments—all a natural part of growing up.
Life in the kingdom of King Prabhakaravardhana, the role of the queen Yashovati who was a formidable figure in the court of Thanesar are explained for young readers of today.
As the story goes along it unfolds the relationship between cousins Madhava, Kumara, Bhandi and Harsha and his brother Rajya. The rivalry, the love and a sense of responsibility shown when Rajya and Harsha take Kumaragupta and Madhavagupta under their wings.
The role of the astrologer in predicting the future is significant in the story. All this and more make the book a page turner. The twists and turns in the book begin after princess Rajyasri’s wedding. The princess realizes that she is being used as an instrument in a political game and yet, she abides by her parents’ decision. This is true even today in traditional families. It would be really interesting to know how the readers would react to this.
The wedding preparations in the palace on a grand scale are marred by the prophecy of ‘the crazy mendicant’. He predicts that the ‘the marriage is doomed’, and that it must not take place. This worries Rajyasri; she wonders what the old man meant. What was in store for her? We can see how astrologers play an important role. Even today, not many would ignore an astrologer’s prediction.
It is after this that the story takes us on a journey of tragedy, intrigue and palace politics.
Harsha’s eagerness to learn state policy, war and diplomacy while Rajya wants to lead the life of an ascetic indicates the maturity of the young princes. But soon, the unfortunate and tragic death of his mother, Queen Yashovati is followed by the death of his father King Prabhakara and the final blow, the death of his brother Rajya. How did Harsha deal with all this? What were his strengths and weaknesses? Did he play clean politics? The author has woven these aspects in her story and it is for the reader to discern the virtues of his action. The maturity and composure of a young Harsha would give a wonderful insight to our young readers on how to cope with tragedy. Harsha’s coronation and the determined course of action he takes as a ruler can be compared to his father’s more benevolent nature. This is an interesting debate point for contemporary young readers.
Finally, it is interesting to note that Harsha played his cards well in gaining ascendancy to the thrones of Thanesar and Kanauj, shouldering responsibility at age sixteen. The relationship with his sister and her understanding of her brother is subtly brought out. A slice of history effortlessly woven into an enchanting tale for young readers, the book does however stumble on words not commonly used by the young today. While J.K. Rowling just invented a whole new vocabulary for her Harry Potter fans, Rangachari falls back on archaic terms no longer used in popular lingo. Insouciance, cadence, rheumy eyes, mendicant, hove, equipage and contritely—some words that take away from the story and maybe a little glossary would have helped the reader understand the nuances better. It would also be useful to print the age group for whom the book has been written.
Vijaylakshmi Nagaraj is Educational consultant, author and storyteller, based in Bangalore.