Amish Tripathi doesn’t want us to read his book “The Secret of the Nagas”. He wants us to see the movie “The Secret of the Nagas” based on the bestselling book of the same name. Well, that’s how I felt while reading the book.
The second instalment of the Shiva Trilogy disappoints, but not as much as the first book, The Immortals of Meluha. The author has thought up a very interesting plot, action packed with plenty (way too plenty) of characters. But where it fails is in the narration (again!).
Shiva is now comfortable being the Lord Neelkanth, the much awaited saviour of India. He appears to have accepted his destiny and embarks upon, well, saving his people from evil, which we discover, is not evil at all. It’s really a manifestation of good in another form. “Two sides of the same coin”, as the book proclaims till the end. Nobody is evil in this book. Not the feared Nagas, not the arch enemies Chandravanshis, nor the notorious terrorist Parshuram. All the evil (?) deeds they had done had logical explanations, and they all submitted meekly to the Neelkanth once Shiva shows up at their territories.
In spite of such a powerful plot, what makes the book mediocre is the characters. You are not sure what they want. Sure, they all follow Shiva on his search for evil, with a few love stories thrown in, and too much travelling. The mother-son drama between Ganesh and Sati was very Bollywood-ish, if you ask me. I can almost picture the grown (erstwhile evil) son crying at his white haired mother‘s feet, while temple bells ring in the distance and close-ups of goddesses come into view. What does Shiva really want in his heart? Did he accept the position of the Neelkanth because he truly believed he was The Awaited One, or because he wanted to gain the favour of Sati? You don’t find yourself rooting for him, no you don’t. The cursing has significantly reduced, but there we still see traces of crudeness in him.
The book takes us all over ancient India. Except for a few sentences we don’t see much description of the lands, or the waters, or the people. The author surely doesn’t lack imagination, but I wish he would put more effort in the detailing of places. I especially think the ship-bridge concept at the Branga ports and the growing bushes at the Dandak forest was brilliant.
I have said the book is action packed. For this it will make a good movie (but let’s hope they don’t ruin it with Bollywood song and dance sequences). Sometimes I feel there is too much action and not enough breathing space. Team Shiva travels to City One, meets some king and fights some baddies, uncovers some secret, then moves on to City Two, meets another king, fights more baddies, uncovers more secrets, and so on. The story moves at a very fast pace and suddenly introduces new characters at each city the Team visits, without much info on what that fellow wants, or without giving us a reason to cheer for him or boo him from the stands. The result: I often get confused as to who is from where and what position he holds (King? Prince? Knight?) and what the capital of which state is. And there are simultaneous action sequences: such as the time Shiva fights in the forest and Sati fights the tigers in the village of Icchawar. Something kind of like the baptism scene in The Godfather. Wait, don’t even compare it with The Godfather, that’s sacrilege, almost like comparing The Godfather with…… The Secret of the Nagas.
One last gripe. The book dashed here and there, and in the last forty pages takes us to the kingdom of the Nagas. And it was pretty much smooth sailing from there, though the Team passed through the terrifying Dandak forest there was not much trouble along the way. I felt the author wanted to finish the book and rushed through the last two chapters. A few fights and rebellion would make it more interesting.
And the big secret? It was something I had guessed all along but never imagined it to be The Secret. The ending was a bit abrupt, leaving us hanging in the air.
Why did I read the book? Because I wanted to know how the story unfolds. Because I want to say I have read a bestseller. I visited a bookstore yesterday and copies of the book were stacked bang in the middle of the store. I did not take a look.
Now that the baddies have been found to be not bad, I’m curious how the third book, The Oath of the Vayuputras, will be. In the first book there was a mention of the Vayuputras but I have forgotten who they are and I’m not about to go back and do some digging. They are probably some holy men or something and I think this is the book in which Shiva will finally vanquish his personal demons and make the transition from human being to god.