"Pyre of Queens – The Return of Ravana" by David Hair

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    “If you’re reading this work, then you are very likely me. 

    You know what I mean.

   I have come to believe that certain stories develop a life of their own. They are so powerful, so widely known, so much a part of our culture, indeed of our daily lives, that they become more than mere words. 

   Imagine, if you will, a tale that defines a people. It has heroes and villains, good and evil deeds, its very words are sacred to us. It is like a chess set, its pieces inhabited by the same souls, game after game. Or perhaps this tale is a living thing, a script that constantly seeks actors, and when it finds them, it inhabits those actors and possesses them utterly, finding new ways to express and re-express itself, time and time again. 

   What must it be like, to be one of those souls, doomed time and again to live the same life, over and over? Acting out the tale, glorifying it, enhancing it, though at great cost to themselves. Their whole existence a prison sentence, their fate to again and again live as a play-thing of an idea.

    But then, you know what it’s like, don’t you?”  

   It’s 769 A.D. in India and the court of King Ravindra is brimming with secrets. He is a hated king but many who wish to rebel are too afraid to do so for fear of being caught by the blood-thirsty soldiers at his finger-tips. Though there has been a secret plot to overthrow the king, many of those who were involved have been found out, tortured and killed. 

   Shastri, the Captain of the guards, is fearing for his life. He knows the king suspects him as the instigator of the plot, and he does not dare to show any compassion to his fellow conspirators, or reveal his true feelings for Darya, one of the King’s wive. 


    Aram Dhoop is the court poet, small and quiet, frightened and disgusted by the goings-on in the palace but too weak-willed to do anything. The only person who manages to stir any kind of flame within him is Darya. When he hears that she is to burn to death along with King Ravindra and the rest of his wives (seven in total) Aram decides that the time to act is now. In what is his bravest act yet, Aram grabs Darya before she is about to be flung onto the burning pyres and sets off blindly on a galloping horse, pursued closely by the very accomplished and able Shastri.  Following a rush of events, Shastri turns from foe to friend, and soon all three are on the run.

   Jumping forward to  2010, three teenagers – two boys and a girl –  find that the more often they come together, the more that time has a way of ripping around them, opening up to let images of the past escape. Soon, they’re fleeing ghosts from the past, and attempting to unravel the ancient secrets which have such strong hold over them. 

   All right, let’s get this out of the way: I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK!! It is far from perfect, I’ll admit,  and I am not blind to its flaws, but I absolutely loved it nonetheless. The premise is so interesting and unique – I mean, a retelling of the Indian epic Ramayana? With reincarnations and gutsy and intelligent adventurers to boot? And the hero a scrawny kid who loves English and writes poetry? Grabby hands everywhere. 

   All right. I’m calm. Somewhat. Maybe it’s because I haven’t come across many books based on Indian epics but I was excited when this one caught my eye in the library. The writing is concise – the author doesn’t beat around the bush. He has a story to tell and he tells it. The chapters alternate between 769A.D. India and 2010 India, but despite the switches I found myself easily falling into whatever time frame I was supposed to be falling into. 

   The characters seem flat at first, especially with the few, simple lines that the author sketches them with, but as the book progresses they flesh out, growing into more than just stereotypes and begin to take life. My favorite was definitely the protagonist Vikram – the scrawny schoolboy who’s the reincarnation of the court poet Aram Dhoop. They both start out as weak, almost sniveling, and whiny characters, but by the end displayed a strength that belied their reputation, especially Vikram. I might be adding yet another number to my long list of fictional crushes. Thanks a lot, David Hair. As if my sanity really needed that. 

   There’s a love triangle that occupies both the past and the present of this story. I am aware of the reputations that love triangles have in the world of YA, but it is quite well done here. It is clear that it is essential for the story, especially the ‘past’ part of the story. With the twenty-first century teenagers, it is not such an integral part of the story, and Vikram has a keen eye, keen enough to see that he’s fighting for something that’s not really there. It’s not a constant tug-of-war as it is with so many other YA novels and does not dominate the story. 

   The pacing of the story was brilliant. As I mentioned previously the chapters alternated between past and present, and the seamless manner in which it’s been done only becomes more evident when you reach the climax of the novel. At that point, both past and present are climbing in speed and action and I became even more embroiled in the story than I had been. There’s a lot of action, and much wielding of the swords, and aiming of the arrows – and me, well, I’m a sword and arrow type of girl. I love swashbuckling action! There’s just something about it that excites me to no end. A good fight is easy to become engaged in, I think, and this book definitely had a lot of that. 

   The backbone of the story is reincarnation and time repeating itself, and though the three protagonists are simply another version of the originals, it doesn’t feel as if they’re simply fated to do what they do. The narrative makes it clear that it’s the choices that differentiate people, and the present day versions of the historical figures manage to be fresh and are in no way bogged down by their past positions. 

   It’s a great action-packed read, with a dash of humor, romance, and horror. More than just a dash of the last, actually. There are dollopings of horror. DOLLOPINGS. Not exactly horror, but gruesome bloodshed, and vengeful ghosts – wait, that does equate horror, never mind. But it’s a great read, nevertheless, and I devoured it in a day, and now I can’t wait to read the sequels. 

   Sincerely,

     Lady Disdain 

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4 thoughts on “"Pyre of Queens – The Return of Ravana" by David Hair

  1. Wow, this sounds great. I've never read a book revolving around an Indian epic story myself. I like the time travel aspect of this one. Good to hear that the love triangle was well written.
    Great review! I'm adding this to my wishlsit.

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  2. It is! It totally is *happy sigh*
    It's not so much time travel, but reincarnation and the present day kids see the older versions of themselves imprinted onto their current time – if that makes sense.
    I do hope you get to read it sometime šŸ™‚

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  3. This is actually really interesting! I absolutely love stuff about reincarnations and past lives and crossing timelines and stuff. And there really isn't much stuff based on Indian empires or Indian history, which does make me a little sad (I am of the brown-skinned persuasion myself). If you liked this I think you'll enjoy “The Holder of the World” by Bharati Mukherjee. It's a little bit historical fiction, a little bit science fiction, a postcolonial re-telling of The Scarlet Letter, and also plays a lot with the idea that one soul can be different people across time and space.

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  4. Yes! There's something so mysterious about reincarnation and past lives that's very obsession inducing.

    I know, I wish there was more Indian stuff. I'm of the brown-skinned persuasion, too, but I'm Sri Lankan not Indian. Which is why this caught my eye because the ultimate villain here – Ravana – is said to have ruled Sri Lanka in that epic. So you can imagine my excitement. I mean, yeah he's the bad guy, but whatever.

    And what's more David Hair is actually a New Zealander who lived in India for several years, which I thought was impressive considering how well he handles the epic.

    I just checked out “The Holder of the World” on goodreads and it looks really good: “Scarlet Letter” and deconstructing time and geography – definitely intriguing. I shall be hunting down a copy.

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