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Subashish Bhattacharjee


Subashish Bhattacharjee – ‘Agniputr: When Agni First Spoke’







Vadhan
Agniputr: When Agni First Spoke
Novel
Bloomsbury. 2016.
ISBN-13: 978-93-86141-07-1
Pages 354 | Rs 299

Breaking and building fantasy fiction conventions

The genres of fantasy fiction and mythic fiction have been gradually developing into some of the most interesting categories of fiction worldwide. While the genres have been segmented relatively recently, they existed in various forms long before such cataloguing. Another, and far more contemporary development has been the hybridizing of the two genres into one subcultural phenomenon, whereupon mythic backgrounds often intertwine with fantasy tropes to produce innovative results. This hybrid genre is in its nascent stage in India, with a handful of preeminent authors making their more than significant presence felt over the past decade. Among such names is one of the present authors, Vadhan, with his second novel, Agniputr.

The author is known to his Indian audiences for his first, and successful, fantasy fiction work, Shatru. This novel unlike most mythic fiction authors who base their fictive worlds in the midst of its mythic and mythological sources, Vadhan deftly infuses science fiction elements through the novel’s heady engagement with quantum physics with the mythic and the religious elements.

The novel could have benefitted from a more rigorous proofreading as the occasional error is jarring and upsets the fine equilibrium set by the novel. It is even more glaring considering the novel has been published by Bloomsbury. However, this is certainly not a detraction from what is most certainly one of the most enjoyable and exciting works of fiction in the fantasy and mythic genre by an Indian author over the past year. The novel builds on its strengths and does not break pace from the beginning to its cinematic climax.

The novel sets off in the historic setting of a village in Andhra Pradesh, Gudem, which also serves as the backdrop for the action and the climax of the novel. The setting is based on religious iconography, textual references and the mythic sources which ensure that the novel cannot be easily classified as belonging strictly to one codified genre. The setting moves to give the plot a fluidity, shifting to the present day and age. The portrayal of the maverick lawyer-playboy, Raghuram Surya, though apt in its description, is sometimes superfluous, and one may expect a little more restraint on the part of the protagonist under the circumstances which the novel foregrounds. However, the plot warranted a suave character, which Vadhan’s protagonist is able to portray with aplomb. The plot is further rounded-off by the characters of Sheila, a scientist working for the CSIR, in consort with RAW (with the paranormal connection with the organisation perhaps being a minor convolution requiring better explanation), and the deceptive politician, Kiromal.

The plot is equally well-crafted and fast-paced to hold and preserve the attention of the readers. Furthermore, the author’s attention to details leaves little to be desired by means of reportage of the incidents that unfold gradually over the multiple timelines of the novel. The approach towards physics is not in a way that may leave the reader disoriented with the experience of reading. The religious, fantasy, historical and the scientific issues and concepts are laid out in simplified format more suitable for the novel than merely thrown around with scant regard for readability, making the experience of reading one that is rewarding as well.

The writing is fast-paced and not indulgent. The pace of the novel does not allow the reader to relax or detach oneself from the fiction. However, some sub-plots and contrivances that could have been avoided have made their way into the text. This could be justified as adding to the mythoi of the text and not allowing for a strict structuring of the constituent plot of the novel. The plot and action of the novel could perhaps justify considering the work to be one where the reader is made to be aware of some aspects of fundamental knowledge of quantum physics that are formulated in the novel.

Although it is fairly difficult to summarise such works of fiction, the most apt consideration for this intricately plotted novel would be its grounding as a site where a potential John Grisham meets Dan Brown meets Stephen King. There is a particular strain of futurity in the novel which differentiates it from other similar works. Unlike the more definitive finality that brands most such fantasy ventures, the author shows the promise of following the novel with an equally adept approach of interdisciplinary, multi-genre fiction work fusing the strands of genre, style and thought that have thus far been considered to be disparate elements. The novel stands its ground as a fantasy/mythic fiction work, and would be an interesting addition to the bookshelves of the readers of the genre.

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