PLOT: 3.5/5

My musings

My very first impression of author Suny Misra’s debut book, Shadows in the Night, had a lot to do with the concept of an intriguing train journey. The cover and the blurb of the book do a good job of creating an aura of mystery around the plot. Together, they give enough information to lure the reader, but more importantly, they know exactly how much to reveal. In the end, teasing the reader to satisfy her curiosity by diving right away into the tantalizing mystery. Thus, as far as first impressions go, this book had me in from the very start.

Read on to know what I think of the rest of it and how was my experience of reading it.

What to expect?

Expect a book that has an interesting storyline. Expect a book that is an easy and comfortable read. Expect a book that manages to retain an element of mystery throughout the journey. Expect a book that narrates a simple yet beautiful story. Expect a book that has something to offer to every reader. Finally, expect a book that addresses an important social issue at its very core.

Who can read?

Since Shadows in the Night is written in a simple language and an easy-breezy manner, it can be picked up by a beginner level reader.

About the author

Author Suny Misra is a teacher and a bibliophile. He comes from the world-famous Misra Gharana of Benaras of the Indian Classical Music. His forefathers have been prominent figures in the world of classical music. He is immensely proud of his heritage, and as a result of his grooming and upbringing, is inadvertently drawn to music, arts, and other artistic fields. In addition to pursuing music and literature, he is also drawn towards psychology, taekwondo, and photography.

Let’s talk about the storyline

Ambarish, a teacher by profession, is on his way back home from a vacation when he mistakenly gets off at the wrong railway station. It is one of those dark cold winter nights and the station almost seems abandoned. Soon he starts getting phone calls, and after every phone call, he meets a person. With every encounter, the reader gets a flashback into his past and into his journey until now. The reader gets acquainted with every ebb and flow of his life, with all the good times and the bad ones too.

But all is not as it seems. What appears to be something on the surface has a much deeper and hidden meaning. And that’s what the reader is supposed to find out in the end.

Who is Ambarish?

Who are the people calling him in the dead of the night?

Who are the people he is meeting at the abandoned railway station?

How does it all fit in?

What about the writing style?

In Shadows in the Night, the author has done a fantastic job of jumbling up the timelines. The book frequently switches from flashbacks to the present and vice versa. Sometimes overdoing this creates unnecessary complications, but the author gets the formula just right. The resultant effect is that of a fast pace and an underlining tension without the burden of redundant complexities.

What did I like?

I love it when a book incorporates the vibrancy of local culture into the narrative. This is done well through Rabindra Sangeet which is shown as the life goal of one of the main characters, Nisha. There are songs, trivia, and other information about the Bengali culture that form an integral part of the book. This lends a distinct local flavor to the book.

I also enjoyed the part where the affinity of the author towards arts and literature is shown. Quoting Faust and Amir Khusrau while conversing with your lover, adds a nice touch of culture to the mix, adding both sanctity and richness to the writing.

Even though the story is about a complicated subject that has no defined conclusions, I love how the message at the end is of hope and not despair. This surely brings a smile to my face every time I think of it.

What could have been better?

The romance between the two main characters was too dull for me. It lacked passion and emotions, felt too mechanical and forced, not to forget, a tad too unbelievable. A couple who stays apart for three long years can reconcile all their differences and ignite that long lost romance in just one meeting? This when there were no phone calls and no explanations for the entire duration. It sounds too unrealistic to be true.

The pace slows down in the middle where too much focus is given to the love story. This impacts the overall entertainment of the book. Barring the college love story – which to be very frank, seems like many other cliché romance stories – the rest of the book has an interesting and well-executed plot.  

What did I not like?

There are times when the book gets too preachy for my taste. So much so, that it takes a hit at both relatability and reality. It makes sense if there are one or two people who love talking about ideas and ideals, but when all the characters suffer from the goody-goody syndrome, something is definitely wrong. Variety is a must even in character profiling. It gets too monotonous for the reader when all the characters are painted with the same virtuous brush.

The need of the hour

Shadows in the Night at its very core has an important social message. Since the entire mystery is built around that, I cannot divulge it here for the fear of spoilers. But it makes the reader in me very happy that a debut author has decided to address this, thus making it a very daring and brave first attempt.

The writing shows promise

If I talk about the overall writing, taking into consideration all the good, the bad, and the scope for improvements, I find the writing to be quite promising. There are some excellent writing techniques that the author makes use of, without the advantage of experience on his side. That to me is a telltale sign of promising writing.

How good are the characters?

While most debut works fail at character portrayals, the author gets it somewhat right. I love that the reader is shown how the characters are rather than told. For example, Aakash is an exceptionally well-read and intelligent boy. But this information is not spoon-fed to the reader. This is shown through multiple incidents and interactions that he has with his teachers and parents.

Also, this isn’t a one-off case. Most of the things that we learn about the characters – back stories, likes, dislikes, quirks, nature, personality – are all shown to us in a similar fashion. I also like the fact that the characters manage to leave a lasting impression. As a reader, I was always invested in their story.

Leading by example

Even though I have mentioned my qualms about the virtuous behavior of all characters, there is no denying the fact, that at least some part of it goes a long way in setting a good example. The way the couple decides to go about the wedding had simply won my heart.

Let’s talk about the climax

The climax is yet another aspect where the book scores brownie points. It not just manages to bring the story to a surprising conclusion, but also propels it towards a completely different path. The questions that baffle the reader throughout the book are answered convincingly. And in the end, it all comes down to a rational and well-conceived conclusion.

It all comes down to the entertainment quotient

An easy-breezy writing, mysterious undertone, simple language, and a fast pace, together make this book a good entertainer.

In the end

In the end, Shadows in the Night proves to be a decent entertainer with a solid plotline and an important message. It is a book not just meant to entertain but also empathize and educate. It is the social message at its very core that makes the book stand apart from many other debut Indian works.

The final verdict

Can be read.

Pick the book

  • If you enjoy books that baffle you.
  • If you enjoy books that narrate extraordinary tales of ordinary lives.
  • If you like discovering and supporting new Indian authors.
  • If the idea of a mysterious train journey excites you.
  • If you are looking for a beginner level read with a surprising twist.

Skip the book if

  • You don’t like amateurish writing (at least in some parts).
  • You are looking for a 5-star entertainer.

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Shadows in the Night using the link below.