Dark Things by Sukanya Venkatraghavan – A Fantasy Read Studded with Indian Mythology
7th January, 2017
A story of love, loss and betrayal in a world where yakshis feed on secrets, gandharvas are banished from the sky and apsaras are believed to be a myth.
Ardra is a yakshi from the realm of Atala. She seduces men and steals their secrets. Later she hands them over to her leader, Hera, who thrives on the secrets that the yakshis bring her from Prithvi (Earth). Hera is the evil one, creator of yakshis, her dark things. She dreams of being more powerful by becoming the Blood Queen.
Meanwhile monsters seem to be chasing Dwai, a human, who is in possession of a stone that protects him. Then there is the monster slayer Dara who is a banished heavenly being. Ardra tries to find out why Dwai was unhurt when she tried to harm him, what 500-years-old secrets are buried in Dara’s heart and in the process questions her existence.
If you are new to Hindu mythology, this book has a lot of references to the fantastical elements in them. There are Yakshis (who seduce humans and drink their blood. In the book they thrive on the secrets of men), Gandharvas (the handsome heavenly beings who love to seduce virgins and later disappear leaving not even a memory in the maiden’s mind) and Apsaras (the dancing maidens of heaven with bewitching beauty). There are Western fantastical elements such as mermaids and werewolves as well.
The writing is fast paced and moves quickly between different scenes. The read is a highly entertaining one full of new developments, which I greatly enjoyed.
There are three main realms in the book, Prithvi (Earth), Atala (Hera’s realm where yakshis and shadow creatures dwell) and Aakasha (sky where Gandharvas and Apsaras dwell). The main character is Ardra, the yakshi and the villain is a female character as well – Hera. The men in the novel have significant roles but they never overshadow the female characters which is refreshing because it is not your usual damsel-in-distress cliché. The setting sometimes takes on a modern world spin – so you have evil beings on aeroplanes, yakshis shoplifting etc as well.
Hiccups (minor spoilers, be warned)
I could not understand why Dwai would give the stone that protects him to every monster (let me rephrase that as ‘non- human’) he meets. If you have monsters chasing you, a yakshi in close vicinity and no clue what is happening except that you possess one stone that protects you , would you be so trusting of every being you get introduced to and hand it over? I don’t think so. And this willful exchange of his forms the crux of the climax. So that was a big downer for me.
minor spoiler ahead
Another downer was the story behind Dara’s banishment. We hear all about the banishment and after a few pages later, the apsara Menaka says she has lifted his banishment and he is free to visit Aakasha again. One sentence, that’s all. It made me think if things were that simple then why read through more than half of the book thinking about the banishment?
These flaws weakened what would have otherwise been a stronger plot. I think my rating would have been higher if these hiccups was dealt with.
Final Verdict :
Overall, Dark Things is a good book. It is nice to see a good fantasy read in Indian fiction charts that is not a mythical retelling. Sukanya Venkatraghavan has done a commendable job in creating such an entertaining read and I hope to see more of her work in the future.
Title : Dark Things
Author : Sukanya Venkatraghavan
Publisher : Hachette India
Published : 2016
Language : English
Rating : 3.5/5
Much thanks to Hachette India for a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
Have you read this book? Do you have any recommendations in Indian fantasy?