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Of monsters and dark worlds

Published : Feb 10, 2016, 12:48 am IST
Updated : Feb 10, 2016, 12:48 am IST

We have grown up listening to the stories of gallant heroes defeating monsters and the protecting the world on the cusp of destruction but have you ever wondered what if this monster, destined to kill

Dark things By Sukanya Venkatraghavan Hachette, pp. 355, Rs 350
 Dark things By Sukanya Venkatraghavan Hachette, pp. 355, Rs 350

We have grown up listening to the stories of gallant heroes defeating monsters and the protecting the world on the cusp of destruction but have you ever wondered what if this monster, destined to kill people, needs protection What if the demon we have been fighting against turns out to be the princess that in turn rescues us Well, these are the questions that Sukanya Venkatraghavan’s debut fantasy novel, Dark Things, explores.

Winner of DNA-Hachette Bestseller Hunt (2014), Sukanya’s first brush with fantasy was as a film journalist, covering the sensational yet daunting world of Bollywood with publications like Filmfare and Marie Claire. Talking about her debut as a novelist, Sukanya said, “People often ask me why I wrote Dark Things. The answer is really simple. I took Toni Morrison’s famous advice and wrote the book I wanted to read. Fantasy has always been my world and stepping into universes other than ours has been a favourite past time of mine. Dark Things is the product of one such trespassing.”

The book is set in the dark realm of Atala, where an evil goddess prepares to do the “Unspeakable” after a mortal in Prithvi survives a supernatural attack and a Yakshi, honed to kill, finds herself at the heart of this other-worldly storm. Ardra, a skin-shifting monster, has been living as a Yakshi for over 500 years and she is designed to seduce and kill men after drawing out their deepest, darkest secrets for her evil mistress Hera, queen of the forsaken realm of Atala.

In Ardra, the writer portrays a carefully concocted heroine with a modern twist. She is a seductress, a rebel and a pawn, one who is cursed to kill people but dreams of being woken up by a “true love’s kiss”.

In the beginning of the book, Ardra is shown as nothing more than a fantast, who always ends up being a damsel in distress. But, with the plot her character strengthens and she becomes a saviour. This journey of her character begins when on one strange blood moon night she unknowingly steps out of Atala, looking for her prey and bumps into a painter, Dwai, at Prithvi. As usual she tries to seduce him and succeeds but this mortal is no common prey, Ardra is unable to draw any secrets from him and he survives her bewitching, spinning her world out of control.

Meanwhile, back at Atala, Hera comes to know of this little adventure and Ardra must escape her wrath as she is plotting the unthinkable and is ready to throw the universe into chaos. To stop Hera, Ardra must find answers to questions she hasn’t dared to ask before, while battling her own feelings of falling for a mortal, Dwai. Yes, the monster falls for a human, a human with magical, mysterious powers that make him survive supernatural attacks.

Then there is the monster-slayer Dara — tall, handsome and godlike — one who emerges out of nowhere like a mystical Byronic hero to save the protagonist. Amid all this, these three main characters must come together to save Prithvi against the evil queen Hera and how they do it is the story.

Although gripping, the plot often veers into fairytale tropes and clichés, like talking mirrors, eerie midnight howls and corpse-laden portals. The evil queen, here too, wreaks havoc in the lives of all her subjects just to retain her youthful beauty. Then, there is the shifting concept of damsel in distress that the author often explores but mainly, Dark Things is about reliving all the folkloric fantasy stories our grandparents scared us with and once again brings home the idea of how good, here in a monster, trumps all.