WRITING STYLE: 3.5/5
ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 2.5/5
I live around 10 km away from Hampi, the seat of the Vijayanagara Empire. It is my regular haunting place and I’ve been there a trillion times. I am aware of its history and am quite acquainted with the significance behind each of the monument there. So when, Love & Death in the Middle Kingdom, a historical fiction based in Hampi came up for review, I was exultant and eager to give it a go.
Nitya Ramiah is a history student at the Delhi University. Her research takes her to Honavar, Karnataka to meet Saratchandra Gowda, who has recently unearthed a rare manuscript belonging to the Vijayanagara period. The manuscript is a personal diary of Devadatta, an imperial officer in the Kingdom. It is a narrative on the everyday life of a commoner in the Vijayanagara Empire. It talks about the culture, tradition, festivals, religious practices, language, attire etc. during the period. Over the pages, the diary gets more intimate and Devadatta writes about his friendship with a Portuguese trader, Gulabi, and a Persian traveller, Farjad. But the strict societies of the time do not approve of their friendship and Devadatta is exiled from Hampi. What happens to Devadatta? What about Gulabi and Farjad? Is the manuscript really a diary or the work of someone’s imagination? These are the questions to which Nitya and Sarat have to find the answers for.
Historical fiction is my favourite genre and I enjoy both the history and the fiction in these books. To me, these books have always meant hidden codes inside maps, paintings and sculptures which the protagonist has to uncover to solve the riddle. Love & Death in the Middle Kingdom had none of these and is more of a Shakespearean tragedy set in India. I found the depth of history in the book to be a bit shallow; the rich history and heritage of Vijayanagara could have been better used in the plot. The purpose of the contemporary story was totally lost to me as it does not add much to the plot.
The characters of the medieval period are well portrayed. They take you back in time and you can almost get a picture of the old Hampi in its full glory. But the characters of Nitya and Sarat, the protagonists, fail to charm. They do not run around places searching for clues, they are not chased by bad guys and they do not talk of anything historically significant, thereby failing to create an impact on the readers.
I don’t want to sound totally negative about Love & Death in the Middle Kingdom because the author’s writing style and language are much superior to what we usually see these days. The book failed to appeal to me because being an ardent fan of historical fictions and having read many books of this genre, I always tend to look for more but that might not be the case with you. If you enjoy a slow-paced story which calms your mind and doesn’t keep you at the end of your nerves, you will surely enjoy it.