PLOT: 4.5/5
CLIMAX: 3.5/5

My Musings

Anand Neelakantan is an author who hardly needs an introduction. With some really popular books in his kitty – Asura, The Rise of Sivagami, Ajaya 1: Roll of the Dice and Ajaya 2: Rise of Kali and some famous TV shows like Siya Ke Ram, Chakravartin Ashoka, and Sankatmochan Mahabali Hanuman to boast off, the author has slowly and steadily become a household name in India.

Out of the four books written by him, I had only read Asura and I had absolutely loved it. So, with the kind of high expectations, as one would have of an author like Anand Neelakantan, I sat down to read Vanara – The legend of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara.

Read on to know my thoughts about this book.

What to expect?

Vanara is a mythological fiction that refreshingly doesn’t talk about the main heroes of our mythology.

Amidst the plethora of mythological fiction books that are flooding the market these days, Vanara stands out because it brings to us the story of those who lost, those who perished, and those who were vanquished.

The book is the story of the tribe of Vanaras, and three of the most important people of their tribe – Baali, Sugreeva and Tara.

It is also, probably, the world’s first love triangle story. When picking this book up, expect a good dose of drama, romance and action.

Let’s talk about the storyline

Baali and Sugreeva are orphans who grow up in the ashram of the Rishi Gautama. Being Vanaras, they are considered filthy and untouchables and are not allowed to mingle with other ashram mates.

After an accidental encounter, they are forced to leave the premises. On the other hand, Tara is the beautiful daughter of the Vanara Vaidya, Sushena.

How these three characters meet, interact and fall in love with each other is what constitutes a major part of this book. But romance is not the only thing that pushes their stories forward.

Their fate will be intertwined forever and their lives will be one heady mix of love, betrayal, family drama, friendships, dreams and a lot more. They will be driven by lust, greed, love, and the power of hope.

I refrain from divulging anything further because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. One thing, however, is quite certain – this book is definitely worth a shot and every mythological fiction lover should surely give it a try.

The many assumptions in Vanara

These are certain ground rules or foundations which the author has mentioned clearly at the beginning of the book.

Firstly, since the book is the story of the vanquished, the conventional heroes of our mythology and religion like Shri Ram, Lakshman, Jatayu, Lord Indra etc. are looked at from the point of view of those who lost.

So, people who think they might feel offended should refrain from reading the book. This is just a fiction and should not be taken at its face value.

Secondly, the Vanaras are actually a tribe of jungle people who reside in the forests around the present day Hampi. “Vanara” is just a derogatory and demeaning term used for those who are truly called Vana Naras or the jungle people.

They are looked down upon by people of other tribes especially Devas and Asuras because they still live by the ways of the old men – surviving on hunting and gathering as opposed to farming.

Another major assumption that Anand Neelakantan makes is that the world in which the book is set is devoid of all sorts of fantasy elements. He has tried to imagine the stories of all the characters like they were just humans (devoid of any special powers).

Accordingly, all elements of fantasy and magic have been done away with. There are a few loopholes in the story with respect to this, but I will talk about them in the later sections.

What about the characters?

The characters of Vanara take their own time to bloom.

During the first half, they come across as uni-dimensional beings driven by a single motive. They are just bland and unimaginative.

However, as the story progresses, the characters assume shades of grey, are driven by multiple motives and become multi-dimensional.

It is in the second half, that they start being relatable and evoke empathy from the reader.

What about the author’s writing style?

I like the way the author has contrasted the ancient world that he writes about in this book with the modern times.

He draws a lot of parallels between the current and the old world and in doing so, sheds light on some topics that are extremely relevant today.

He also talks about a lot of social issues like discrimination on the basis of colour and caste.

While it is amusing in the beginning, the repetitive rants become a tad tiresome after a while. They lose the novelty factor. of anything is bad and I feel that there was an obscene amount of anti-Brahmin ranting course of the book which kind of spoilt the reading pleasure for me.

Further, there were a few inconsistencies in the storytelling but nothing of the sort that would take away the reading pleasure.

Something that I liked about the writing was how the romance was played out – it wasn’t the outright cheesy mushy types – nor it was the vulgar and passionate sorts – it was realistic, relatable and yet intense. It was subtle but tempered with just the right amount of passion.

The best thing about the book

The cover of the book is stunningly gorgeous and so are the few illustrations which gracefully complement the text.

The art style and the vibrant remind me of my trip to Thailand and to Cambodia. The art work is quite similar to what I had seen in the royal palaces of Thailand and the many Apsara dances of Cambodia.

In addition to the art, I also like how the story has included a lot of familiar characters from our mythology and told their story in an interesting fashion.

I am talking about mythological figures like Jatayu, Sampati, Mayavi, Vishwakarma, Rishi Gautam, Ahalya, Mahabali etc. These characters, though don’t enjoy a major part in the turn of events of this book, they nevertheless provide a rich background to the story.

Was the climax good enough?

It makes sense not to disclose much about the climax. It will be safe to state that the climax is indeed a satisfactory one, which gives a befitting end to the story of Baali, Sugreeva and Tara.

It isn’t really unpredictable, but at the same time it is written well and that makes up for the lack of any surprise elements.

It all boils down to the entertainment quotient

Vanara is yet another book that proves that Anand Neelakantan is a master storyteller. There is no dearth of entertainment quotient in this book.

Through a delectable mix of various elements – great characters, good plot, racy narration, delicate romance, and a decent climax – Anand pens a book that is difficult to put down.

Pick up the book if

  • You are an Anand Neelakantan fan.
  • You like mythological fictions/mythological dramas/ mythological romances etc.
  • You want to read an entertaining book about what could possibly be the world’s first love triangle.

Skip the book if

  • You don’t like mythological fictions.
  • You don’t like dramas, especially mythological dramas.
  • You might be offended by this fictionalised tale which looks at our Gods like Shri Ram, Lord Indra, Shri Hanuman and other respected figures like Jatayu, Sampati etc. from a different perspective.

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Vanara by Anand Neelakantan using the link below.