Ashoka: Lion of Maurya by Ashok. K Banker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The revised first part of the Ashoka Series of books from India's mythology man - Ashok Banker. This one provides a prequel of sorts to the Ashoka Lion of Maurya Book 2 which was previously the Book 1 of the series.
Much about the Chandragupta Maruya and Ashoka is lost to Indians. The history taught in schools cover only the very basics of the first Indian empire which laid the foundation of a united India. The architects of this great empire are lost to the common Indian due to almost 200 years of rule under the British empire the remanants of which is still felt today in modern India where we are taught more about the recent history than the ancient history. India still looks outwards for its role models than inwards towards the Icons that moulded it into what it is today. Names like Chanakya, Chandragupta, Ashoka, Radhagupta, Bimbisara have just become footnotes in the pages of history.
Ashok Banker seeks to revive the interest in these ancient figures with his retelling of Itihasa - History. Ashoka is the medium he has chosen to start his mighty effort. Much of knowledge about how Ashoka became the 3rd emperor of the Mauryavansha Dynasty is shrouded in mystery. There are some anecdotes about him propagating Buddhism throughout India after being enlightened post the bloody Kalinga War. But not much information is available about his rise to the throne. Bimbisara was known to have had 100 children and close to 500 queens. From this murky, back stabbing and politically charged environment Ashoka rose to prominence.
The first 2 books in the series lay the foundation for Ashoka's ascendance to the top. The politics and the backstabbing happening in the ruling elite is repulsive and intriguing at the same time. Banker seeks to keep the mystery going by throwing Ashoka in 1 perilious situation after another. The Book 1 & 2 end with Ashoka in a very perilious state - betrayed by those close to him and hanging onto his life by a thread.
There is enough facts blended with fiction in tale to allow for the liberties that Banker takes while depicting the courtroom dramas and the palace sex life. The books are spaced easily and make for a breezy read. Mythology has traditionally been Ashok Banker's forte and by blending history with his impeccable story telling skills, the interest is held as you turn page after page to find out how Ashoka triumphs over his trials.
We know Ashoka became the 3rd emperor of Mauryavansh, but if you did not know Indian history and are reading the books for the first time, you would be at the edge of your seat to find out just how the hero survives through a unliveable trial. Book 2 ends in a cliff hanger leaving you gasping for more, wanting Banker to have written just 1 more page to satisfy you that Ashoka has survived, instead you are left pining for Book 3 to release ASAP so that you can continue into this riveting journey with arguably India's most powerful emperor.
My Rating - 4.5/5.