Demons of Chitrakut
by Ashok K. Banker
Orbit (UK) PPBK:
ISBN 1841491780 PubDate: 06/01/04
Review by Iain Emsley
615 pgs. List price £6.99
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Ashok Banker has undertaken a remarkable project in more than one way. In this and the previous two novels, Prince of Ayodhya and Siege of Mithila, he has started retelling the Indian epic story of the Ramayana. It is rumoured that this series will run to seven novels.
In Demons of Chitrakut, Rama has defeated the demon invasion and has married Sita. Yet his enemies still abound and he finds that he must prepare himself for fourteen years of exile whilst surrounded by the surviving demon hordes of Ravana's rakshaha.
In essence the tale stands (as do most epics) as an extreme tale of patience and overblown drama but Banker allows his characters to rise to the challenge. Instead of having the plot drive them, he gives them the space to grow and to tell the story themselves. He understands that retelling a tale means that the author has a responsibility to add in their own voice, not just rigidly stick to the story and merely save the reader time in seeking out the original sources.
More importantly, this series does something else. It can justifiably argued that fantasy, and in particular epic fantasy, has become an insular beast, content in its Western repose. Too many writers have taken the standard inkling mould and have denied fantasy its raison d'etre as a literature of the imagination. Parallel to this, a fantasy readership has developed that has become accustomed to this fare. To each his own, but it has ignored a body of literature which accepts a certain magical realism (i.e. accepting that fantastic elements co-exist with the real). Banker has begun restoring this body of literature with the Ramayana but it cannot, on its own, redress the lack of Asian and African mythologies and folk lore in the current fantasy market.
This is a series that needs to be read. It offers heroism, romance and action on an epic scale but remembers that it is a series of novels. Banker has maintained the pace for the reader and has visibly grown in confidence through the books. At this stage, Banker seems to be holding his nerve and one hopes that he will retain the renewed sense of wonder at fantasy.