“And monsters don’t look anything like monsters. They look like you and me. In fact, they look more like me than anyone else.”
I do not usually judge books by their covers, but I do believe that a cover does have the power power to grab the attention of an avid reader, who must find their next read from the multitude of books available. The cover of Dark Things by Sukanya Venkatraghavan is very much like an eager kid going, “pick me! pick me! I promise I’m awesome.” And awesome it is.
The plot is not too convoluted. Ardra, a yakshi, is in the service of Hera, the evil queen of Atala. A shape-shifter, she steals secrets from human men and leaves them dead. When one of her marks, Dwai, survives, a Pandora’s box opens. Secrets must be hunted down and questions answered before heaven and earth descend into evil. Accompanying Ardra and Dwai on their dark and dangerous quest is the monster slayer, Dara. Other than the trio the cast of characters also features legendary apsaras, wood nymphs, gandharvas, werewolves, assorted creatures from hell and a Huldra.
The author has taken all these mythical elements, so familiar to any Indian, and given them a 21st century upgrade. It is weird fiction of a kind that India has been waiting for, and Dark Things, along with The Devourers is proof that Indian writers can write fantasy and how!
What I truly love about this book is that it has managed to extricate mythology from the grasp of religion, making this a book that truly crosses boundaries. One need not be familiar with these creatures to understand them in the context of this book. There is fantasy, yes, but also a bit of horror, and a good dose of romance. It is mythology “masala maarke.” Kudos to the author for the world-building!
Another thing to love is the female characters. They display a range of personalities and are multidimensional. It is so exciting to see both a female hero and female villain. The men are well written too, and have their own place.
There are enough twists and turns to keep even the ficklest of readers interested and at just 353 pages long, is a quick read. Keeping with the genre, the writing moves along at a good clip.
The relatively short length of the book is however what led to my few, minor annoyances with this book. Too many questions I had were left unanswered at the end, or if they were addressed, they were not detailed enough. For example,(tiny spoiler here, press and hold cursor over the below space to read) there is a mention of a monster that has been killing humans and leaving them with their skins inside out. We do eventually find out more about the monster, but not enough to completely explain its bizarre serial-killing. In fact, I cannot get it out of my mind how interesting a fantasy-crime thriller that would make in its own right. Also, because so many characters occupy so less a space, I did not get to see enough of some of the characters I really liked, such as Izaru.
However, these complaints do not take anything away from the enjoyment of the book, and is easily solved by a sequel (please! please! please!). Dark Things is certainly a book that stands apart from its peers in the genre and a must-read for those looking for good fantasy fiction.
FTC disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this honest review.
The Magister Trilogy by C S Friedman. A must read for those who like fantasy filled with bold, confident women, who are good, bad and grey. Ardra and Hera very much remind me of the protagonist and antagonist in this this series.
Good Hunting, a short story by Ken Liu, part of the anthology The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. This short story also features a female shape-shifter that preys on men, but that is where the similarity ends.