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Nemesis of Kalinga (Ashoka Trilogy: Book 3) by Shreyas Bhave | Book Review

The time of Chandragupta and Chanakya is one of the most memorable segments of the history of Bharatvarsh (aka Indian subcontinent). While comparatively less is known about Bindusar (Bindusara) – the son of Chandragupta, Ashok (Ashoka or Asoka), son of Chandragupta is known as one of the “Great” kings. The famous Ashok Chakra – the wheel with 24 spokes – found the central place in the Indian national flag. To add to that, the national emblem of the Republic of India is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka from 250 BCE at Sarnath, preserved in the Sarnath Museum near Varanasi, India.

Shreyas Bhave, an Indian author, came up with Asoka Trilogy – a set of 3 books exploring times from around 272 BC to 262 BC. Of course, the trilogy is a historical fiction, as no one alive has witnessed the time. Relying on the documents available and adding imagination to filling in the void, is the only way to explore it.

When Leadstart Publishing house provided us the 3rd book the series – Nemesis of Kalinga, we have accepted it and was curious to explore it. Fortunately, from our team, I got a chance to read this book and presented here is my unbiased and uninfluenced book review.

As I have already read another historical fiction by the author Prisoner of Yakutsk : The Subhash Chandra Bose Mystery Final Chapter, I was familiar with the author’s way of writing and the quality of the same. That’s why I chose to go for this book despite the fact that I haven’t read the first two books in the series. I also wanted to check, how this book fairs as a stand-alone.

And, I am not disappointed. On the contrary, I found that the book is complete in itself.

Book Title : Nemesis of Kalinga
Ashoka Trilogy : Book III
Author :
Publisher : Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd (30 September 2019)
# of Pages : 332 (Paperback)
3085 KB; 332 (Kindle EBook)
# of Chapters :
Purchase Link(s) :

Let us take a look at the book cover.

Book Cover:

The cover page is one of the most (not the most) important attributes of a book (or for that matter, any media), because, it is the first thing that catches the viewer’s eye. Of course, a book cannot be judged only by its cover, the influence of the book cover cannot be ignored also.

Nemesis of Kalinga (Ashoka Trilogy: Book III)  by Shreyas Bhave | Book Cover

Nemesis of Kalinga (Ashoka Trilogy: Book III) by Shreyas Bhave | Book Cover

The cover page of this book, as you can see, is moderately good. The cover page of the previous book (in the series) was much attractive. The cover page uses mostly black and white colors along with the shades of grey. The cover illustrates the time when Asoka broke down by seeing the tragedy of the war of Kalinga. He is deeply buried into sorrows at the moment. The cover page tries to it effectively by using black and white colors. To add the color of sacrifice and selflessness, the Sun is shown in light saffron color. That way, the book cover reflects the important elements of the story in an effective manner. But, the cover page is not attractive enough for sure.

The Plot:

The story is explored through two parallel timelines, one is of 262 BC and the other is 50 years ago (from the previous times) in flashbacks narrated by Chanakya.

In 262 BC (current timeline for the book), Asoka is the ruler of Pataliputra. Chanakya, now very aged, is not at the peak of his health. He is confined to a wheelchair. His brain is still as sharp as it was and he relentlessly kept himself busy in various political matters. He has introduced Asoka to wine and kept him busy with flesh pleasures. He, almost single-handedly ruling the Kingdom. As Asoka is the “Samrat”, the area of ruling for Chanakya include almost entire Bharatvarsha.

Kanakdatta (also known as – the buddhist), nicknamed as “the serpent” is a close friend of Asoka. More importantly, he is a spy, working for the Samrat and the kingdom. Shiva is another close friend of Asoka, who leads an important segment of Asoka’s army. Both of these friends can call the Samrat by his name – Asoka. So close is their friendship.

Kalinga – a kingdom – in the east is not under the rule of the Samrat. The kingdom still follows the practices of Janapadas (or Mahajanapadas). Yes, they do elect their leader through an election. The nobles hold more power in terms of the vote. 1 noble vote is equivalent to 100 common votes. Anyone can stand as a candidate in the election and can address the public and convey his/her vision to convince them to vote for him/her.

As, the place for the reader is vacant now, as Naveen, the previous leader is no more, the elections are due. Three contenders are there. Kalingans do the business through the sea and their reach is to various countries and islands. It made Kalinga a very prosperous and wealthy kingdom. One of the contenders for the election is a wealthy businessman, whose power on the sea was well-known. Another important candidate was the chief of the armed forces in the kingdom. Needless to say that he is cunning and brutal. Karuvaki, a ferocious and fearless warrior lady is admired and respected in the kingdom. Her inclination towards any candidate plays an important role.

The “order of Brahmins” working in its own way during these elections.

Devi, the love interest of Asoka; Asandhimitra, the queen of Asoka and many other characters like …. play an important role in the incidents followed.

Of course, the time with Chandragupta and Rakshasha is explored in the separate thread. And there you can meet Malayketu, Alexander, Seleucus, Helena (aka Durdhara), Bindusar, Radhagupta, Cuska, Nikumbh, Prajapati, Dasharath, Asandhimitra, Padmavati, and others.

The book tries to find an answer to “what could have seen by Asoka, that changed his heart?” (when he visited Kalinga after the war). And, it is better to explore by reading the book, rather than talking about.

Views And Reviews:

I believe in not including any spoilers in the review, at least as far as possible. And, I am trying my best to do so in this review as well. However, some of them are inevitable, so read with that consent. Also, at various places, I hold myself from mentioning many key elements/incidents/aspects, just to avoid spoilers. So consider such “missing” elements as “deliberate” attempts to avoid spoilers.

The narration style of the author is one of the most important reasons to go for the book. You will also like the way two parallel timelines are weaved in the story. The book is historical fiction as said earlier, but the author has done extensive research for collecting as much information as possible.

To understand and acknowledge the research work, you must read the acknowledgments and bibliography segments of the book. You will admire the way the author talks about, how little authentic material is available for this important (especially for the Indian subcontinent) historical tale. He also refers to various Sri Lankan texts like Mahavamsa (written in Pali) and Dipavamsa (which is older than Mahavamsa). According to the author, the reference texts found in India are not that older.

How these texts are available in a neighbor island and not in the country of its origin. Well, possibly the ignorance of us to preserve authentic documents for such an important segment of history could be one of them. But, internal rivalries amongst the kingdoms, repeated regular invasions by various brutal invaders – who love burning the cultural stuff and libraries, demolish temples and monuments and universities, looting of the country by invaders, and rise of different faiths and their internal disputes are also significant reasons.

The author also refers to the texts like Divyadana, in which one of the stories is “Asokavadana”. And, of course, there is a reference of Mudrarakshasa by Sanskrit poet and playwright Vishakhadatta. The book also talks about the famous brutalities of Asoka, which made him famous (in negative aspects) as Chandasoka.

The book, as the author says:

Book III of this trilogy, Nemesis of Klinga, describes as its core, two important conflicts of Indian history – one is the war between Chandragupta Maurya and Seleucus Nicator 1, while the other is the Mauryan invasion of Kalinga.

You will be able to understand the research work done by the author, by referring the following sentence:

While the name Kalinga has faded in the country of its origin, there is still a place carrying the name today in the Philippines.

On one hand, this statement reflects the amount of research work done by the author, on the other, it is disheartening to acknowledge we fail to preserve various important aspects of historical stuff which not only shaped our civilization but made it remarkable too. And, even more disheartening is to see when some such important places are renamed to their origins from the deformed or changed names by invaders, some pseudo-intellectuals come ready to oppose such actions.

The author also makes it clear that:

The characters of Kanakdatta, Hardeo, Shiva, Devdatta, General Bheema, and Governor Navin, are purely imaginary. Both the Ancient Brahminical Order and the Merchant’s Guild are imaginary, though legend does speak at length of the secret orders of those times, from Ashoka’s council of nine, to Chanakya’s twelve intelligent men.

The characters are stronger in the story. Actually, the author is able to represent one of the prime characters in such a deceiving manner that you may start hating (or at least questioning) some of the actions taken by him, like many characters of the book.

Also, it is pleasant to find Chanakya appearing in this book. Because, most of the references to his life and work don’t talk much about him or his work after the crowning of Chandragupta as Samrat. The major reference found is about, he then devoted his life to writing his knowledge in the form of precious works like Arthashastra. It is well known that he was able to retire from the day-to-day functioning of politics and administration because Rakshasa was appointed as the prime minister of the kingdom. The birth of Bindusar and his hatred for Chanakya is also well-known. And, in most of the cases, it is believed that Chanakya bid adieu to this mortal world during Bindusar’s time.

This book has many wisdom lines and life-sutras which you will love to remember forever. Here are some of them:

The bigger an army the slower it marches.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Never toy with a prey you do not wish to kill.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Pride is the fall of men, my dear friend.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The first rule of the battle is to surprise your opponent…
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The stronger a man appears on the outside, the weaker he is on the inside.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The second rule of politics is never count on anyone.

Here are some of the qualities needed in an able administrator, mentioned in the book:

Warriors have loose tongues after they have wine in their bellies. And if there are words said, I make sure I hear them.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
In my life I have learnt that the most dangerous enemy is not the one who is most powerful but the one whose next move you cannot predict.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
“In politics, one of the greatest qualities is patience.” Chanakya smiled. “Nothing is more potent than a deadly blow at the right time, not early, not too late, but just at the right time.”

And, when you read the following lines, you will understand that there is only one person who can utter it to the Samrat directly, looking into his eyes, without a minute hesitation:

Trust me Vrishala, if I wanted to do things behind your back, your ears would never hear of them.

It also shows his abilities too. You can call it ego, but it is more of self-resentment and confidence.

The author has a fantastic vocabulary. In the title of the book itself, he used the word “Nemesis” while there are many synonyms available. Here is one example from his writing:

Chanakya looked towards the dark alcoves in the walls.

It is not that the book has interesting lines in aspects of politics only. Here is an ultimate truth written in simple words, in almost matter-of-factly manner:

“Business is perpetual, after all” … Wars happen. Rulers change. Nations are forged and annexed. But business goes on.”

I am avoiding the battle scenes in this discussion from mention, but, here is an interesting introduction of a woman warrior. I am sure you will admire the character and the description both, like me.

The woman moved like wildfire, her sword flashed like lightning. At times it was difficult to say which moved faster.

I found the exploration of surroundings in various scenes quite interesting. Here are some examples:

It was still early and the sun’s rays had still not penetrated the dark veil of the sky.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Against the almost surreal backdrop, the Prime Minister looked as ancient as the fortress itself.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The chamber was a clear reminder that the Pataliputra palace had been originally built as a fortress.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The Brahmin felt his heart beating hard against his ribs as he got to his feet.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
When they reached the vast Council chamber, they found the Prime Minister was already present; his bald head the first thing they saw as they entered.

The exploration of the interior of the palace of Pataliputra, especially the court and personal places belongs to the king and his subjects are interesting too. The details will almost create a visual representation in front of your eyes.

The author talks about the luxuries enjoyed by Asoka in a very interesting manner.

Seeing him enter the pool, two women suddenly emerged from the darkness, one carrying a lamp which caused shadows to play on the wall behind, and the other carrying a brass tray of aromatic oils and pastes.

I also found, the way Asoka throws the costly objects when he was angry and the lessons he was taught (through words, of course), interesting.

There are many important incidents which are talked in interesting ways. Here is one of them:

The ancient closed his eyes and gulped down the liquid they poured into his mouth. He could not feel its taste upon his numb, hardened tongue, only its wetness. Taste had been lost to him a few years ago. He felt the liquid travel down into the confines of his chest, between his lungs which suddenly felt on fire. he forced himself to take a deep breath, but it did not feel complete.

Be it the choice of the words for the person referred in the scene, or the detailing, it is all the way a masterpiece paragraph. The author is good at exploring emotional stuff too. Here is an example:

He hated large cities, especially the ones he did not control.

It talks about the nature of the person, the age effects, the grief, and other attributes without explicitly mentioning them, in an effective manner.

By now, you must have got an idea about various aspects of the book in terms of research work and literary aspects. If you ask me to choose just only one segment of lines from the book, I will settle for the following:

“I can make the right turn into wrong. I can make black into white I can make day into night.” … “And I can make fire into wind Am I really the kind of person you would want as your enemy?”

Who can dare to respond to this cold and brutal threat?!

The book has its share of letdowns too. I will not talk about incidents as it will contain spoilers, but, sometimes the focus is shifted to some unnecessary stuff, sidetracking the main story. Also, there are places where you find missing articles (the/an/a) or punctuation marks, and sometimes you may think that the sentences could have been formed differently to impact better. There are some spelling mistakes too. For example, in the introduction section (where the characters are listed, you will find the following

Maharani Divija: … who will become Samardni …

These letdowns are very few and mostly they will not affect your reading experience.

Summary:

Overall, a fantastically written historical fiction. It is part of a book series, but, is equally interesting as a standalone too. A little longer in size and you may find it costly too. It is not for timepass reading. You need to read by paying attention as there are many characters and things happen at multiple places in more than one timelines. Meant for mature readers. A little background knowledge about these historical incidents is required for better reading experience.

I enjoyed reading it.

Quick Purchase Links:
ThinkerViews Rating

Around 8 stars out of 10.

Over To You:

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