PLOT: 4.5/5 CHARACTERS: 4.5/5 WRITING STYLE: 4/5 CLIMAX: 4/5 ENTERTAINMENT QUOTIENT: 4.5/5
“Unlike the strapping, impressionable young men that the Company sent to India in its early years, the new wave of Company officers came in at older ages, and with the conceited air of rulers, brimming with disdain for everything native. Indians were not friends anymore. They were merely subjects. Hindustan was no more a land of wonder, soul-seeking and fantasy. It was a market ready to be exploited, offering fragmented kingdoms ready to be ruled. An aging Badshah, presiding over a dying dynasty, ripe to be thrown into the dustbins of history.”– Vineet Bajpai, Mastaan: The Fallen Patriot of Delhi
Though I am an avid fan of everything historical, it’s been quite a while since I have read historical fiction. Over the years, some of my favorite historical fiction novels have been Ayse Kulin’s Train to Istanbul, Mamang Dai’s The Black Hill, Lisa See’s China Dolls, and Ashwin Sanghi’s The Rozabal Line.
Craving for some Indian historical fiction led me to Vineet Bajpai’s Mastaan: The Fallen Patriot of Delhi. Read on to know more about my thoughts on the book.
What to expect?
Expect a historical fiction that centers around the 1857 First War of Indian Independence. Expect a book that offers you high octane action, replete with romance and drama. Expect a book that is entertaining and fast-paced. Finally, expect a book that can be read and enjoyed by all categories of readers.
The story as it goes
As the brutalities and monstrosities of the East India company reach their peak, there are voices of dissent rising from all across the Indian sub-continent. The imperial giant continues to ignore the warning signs, but all around, kingdoms, small and big, are plotting a major overthrow.
There is rebellion in the air, and this makeshift army of rebels, troops, warriors, and revolutionaries are headed towards the once glorious capital of Hindustan, Delhi.
Between all this chaos, there is love and friendship, loyalty and betrayal, at the center of which is the unforgettable story of the indomitable Mastaan.
Who can read?
The book is written in a language that is simple yet polished at the same time. The ease of reading combined with fast-paced narration makes it an ideal read for any category of readers – beginners, intermediate, and voracious.
A great start
A great way to commence a book is to hook the reader right from the very beginning. This is aptly displayed in Mastaan: The Fallen Patriot of Delhi. A high-octane battle scene marks the beginning of the book.
Massive tension is created by this high-profile battle featuring the Sher-e-Mysoor Tipu Sultan and the indomitable forces of the British East India Company. This is further amplified by the mention of the astoundingly vast treasures of the Tiger of Mysore.
Further, there is a clever use of foreshadowing and hints of supernatural elements at play which intensifies the mystery.
A few lines that particularly draw attention are listed below.
“Sher-e-Mysoor is a living corpse…sahib”
“He was watching them. From his afterlife. Tipu’s tortured, enraged soul was now seeking a blood sacrifice!”
As is evident from the acknowledgment section, the author has done good research for writing the book. A few reference-reads that he mentions are The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple, White Mughals by William Dalrymple, Delhi: A Novel by Khushwant Singh, City of My Heart by Rana Safvi, Kim by Rudyard Kipling, and the evergreen collection of Amar Chitra Kathas.
Jumbled timelines and multiple subplots
One of the best things about Mastaan: The Fallen Patriot of Delhi is that it makes use of multiple timelines and multiple subplots. Many things are happening simultaneously, and many characters have their own stories to tell. There are also seemingly unrelated events that happened way back in the past but are now somehow connected to the present. This jumbling of timelines and intertwining of the fates of various characters add immensely to the entertainment quotient.
An ambient read
Another big plus that Vineet manages to pull off as an author is the right atmosphere. Whether it is getting the historical relevance right or the vivid details that add texture to the novel, Vineet does all of it with élan.
Many snippets from history
It is the snippets from history that not just add authenticity to the novel, but also make it more vibrant and realistic. The readers would frequently find themselves in the company of many historic figures like Lord William Bentick, Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, the savage brigands called Thugees, legendary revolutionary Mangal Pandey, the unforgettable queen Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, the immortal shayar Mirza Ghalib, and many others.
A treat for people in love with Dilli
The readers, especially those familiar with Delhi, would find delight in learning the histories of places and monuments, big and small. Whether is historical buildings like the Metcalf house, Lal Qila, Kashmiri Gate, Flagstaff Tower, Hindu Rao Bungalow, Tughlaqabad Fort, etc. or places like Ballimaran, Chandni Chowk, Galli Churi Wallan, Dariba Kalan, and Kaagazi Galli, one can taste romance, legend, and antiquity in the many pages of this novel.
Effective use of foreshadowing
I love the way most chapters end in the book. There is an ample amount of foreshadowing which makes things all the more alluring and un-skippable for the reader. This is done with practiced versatility. Whether it is a new character being introduced, or a harmless expression of romantic love, whether it is the sorry state of a failing monarch, or the macabre scene of someone’s death, the carefree banter of fellow soldiers, or the incoherent ramblings of a mad man, the foreshadowing keeps creating more and more questions for the reader. Leaving the reader hooked, and desperate to seek answers.
An impressive cast of characters
The characters are undoubtedly one of the best things about the book. The protagonists as well as the antagonists are magnanimous and larger than life. Their personalities, overwhelming and daunting. Their descriptions paving the way for obligatory reverence.
While some historical figures have been painted in a macabre shade (like Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar), others have a vivid hue (like Nausha Mian aka Mirza Ghalib) that captures their quirks and eccentricities and endears them to the reader.
Characters are introduced in a way that immediately draws attention. And while some of them have interesting arcs undergoing massive transformations, others have been introduced only as a teaser. Thus, setting the stage for the sequel.
Overall, the effect is intoxicating. Impressive, indeed!
Supernatural themes that mirror and amplify the power struggles
When talking about the agents of conflicts and their respective power struggles, it is not just the humans at play. The conflict is also aggravated and muddled by many supernatural elements which function with their own ulterior motives. This addition of ghostly metaphysical components creates its own complex web that adds immense entertainment value.
From djinns, yakshas, dervishes, and pishachaas to black magic, hexed treasures, haunted tombs, and blood curses – in Mastaan: The Fallen Patriot of Delhi you see them all.
Pictures that speak a thousand words
A delectable treat for the reader’s eye comes in the form of many illustrations. Most chapters begin with striking pictures from the bygone era that reflect the antiquity and aura of the places and people mentioned in the book. These include a portrait of Bahadur Shah Zafar, emblem of the East India Company, the towering ramparts of Lal Qila, the now obsolete Enfield rifles, warrior queen Rani Lakshmi Bai, the immortal shayar Meer Taqi Meer, sprawling campus of the Metcalfe House, the destiny changing façade of the Flagstaff Tower, etc.
The fictional characters also have a visual form. We get to see the impressive battle-ready form of the warrior Mastaan and the muscle ripping exterior of the ferocious British Brigadier General Jon Nicholson. The readers also get a peek at the unparalleled beauty of Fay’s piercing gaze.
What could have been better?
Though romance is an integral part of the book, its execution oscillates more towards embellishment as opposed to substance. This sometimes leaves the reader wanting for more, making some parts appear hasty and unrealistic. The overall effect is that of a ready-for-Bollywood script that focuses on delivering the packaged combo of both romance and action.
While as a reader I’d rather side with single-themed reads, there is no doubt that in Mastaan: The Fallen Patriot of Delhi, one would find entertainment of all sorts. Many genres intermingle to provide wholesome entertainment – historical fiction, romance, drama, comedy, and dollops of action.
Social commentaries that reflect the ethos of the bygone era
The socio-culture ethos of an entire era is aptly displayed in the book. Sometimes it fills the reader with a warm nostalgia for something that they will never get to experience. While at others, it highlights everything that was corrupting the Indian society. An excerpt from the book aptly portrays this.
“It was below the royal in-law’s tall standards to even acknowledge the presence of ordinary natives. If left to him, he would have ousted every Hindustani from his small palace.”
An ending that leaves you wanting for more
When it comes to the climax, Vineet knows just how to pull it off. The book ends on an abrupt note, leaving the story unfinished and the reader wanting more. I, for sure, cannot wait to read the next part.
Don’t miss it!
In the end
In the end, Mastaan: The Fallen Patriot of Delhi is a massive entertainer that captivates the reader right from the very beginning. A historical fiction written with panache and finesse, it is a welcome and unmissable addition to the genre of Indian historical fiction.
Pick the book if
- You love historical fiction.
- You enjoy books on and about Delhi and its history.
- You love discovering talented Indian authors.
- You are looking for some wholesome entertainment.
- You are looking for a fast-paced read.
Skip the book if
- You don’t enjoy historical fiction.
Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Mastaan: The Fallen Patriot of Delhi using the link below.