Book 1 – the Pyre
Disclaimer – this book was sent as a review copy by the publishers.
Followers of fantasy writer David Hair may already be aware of his ‘Return of Ravana’ trilogy, written for a young adult audience. This version of the first book (formerly known as ‘Pyre of Queens’) has been updated and revised for the UK re-release.
The book is set in Rajasthan, India, and follows the adventures of two groups of young people. Our modern day heroes meet at school. These three teenagers, who were strangers to each other, are brought together by fate in a moment of mutual recognition. Gradually, through a series of supernatural encounters, visions and episodes of sheer academic research, they come to realise that they are a part of an eternal story that they are bound to play out to the end.
The time slip trope, where a group of modern characters echo the steps of a long dead tragedy, is not new, and has been used to great effect by writers such as Alan Garner (‘The Owl Service’, in particular, comes to mind.) Alan Garner’s work played in the background of my mind as I read ‘The Pyre’, and I would love to know if the author is a fan of Garner.
The myth of Ravana, the Demon King, is the foundation stone to the story. In eighth century Rajasthan, a powerful king plots his own godhood, planning his own death, and his subsequent resurrection as a reincarnation of Ravana the demon king. This rite of power is to be fuelled by the obscene sacrifice on his funeral pyre by sati (suttee) of his seven queens. The sacrificial pyre is where the tale really begins, for our heroes in the past. Their adventures are echoed by the modern characters who are fated to follow in their footsteps, and maybe, just maybe, avoid some of their mistakes.
Although this is the first book of a trilogy, it actually stands well as a novel in its own right. Although I would be interested in finding out more of the story, and would love to read the next two books, The Pyre pulls together enough strands at the end to give a feeling of completion. I enjoyed the characters, and found the modern day teenagers more rounded and fully fleshed as characters than the eighth century ones, who drifted into stereotype occasionally.
In summation, this is a reasonably fast paced young adult novel that can be safely read by someone who is unsure about committing to a trilogy, and can be enjoyed by the adult reader. I read it in two long sessions, and was sorry to say goodbye to the cast. I look forward to reading Book Two.
The Pyre is available now.