"A story is only as true as you believe it to be.”
“What if the maiden was the monster?” the tagline jumps out at you; if that isn’t intriguing enough, Sukanya Venkatraghavan catapults you into a whirlpool where you end up gasping, as you land in the midst of a world populated by Yakshis, Gandharvas, Huldras and Apsaras. 'Dark Things' published by Hatchette India starts off on the premise that “...monsters exist. They roam the earth. They scope the sky. They haunt the underworld.”
The novel revolves around Ardra, the Yakshi, “a beautiful unreal creature with invisible wings and bits of storm in her hair.” Her journey begins as she strives to go back into her memories, which have been rudely torn apart by Hera, the Empress of Atala and the evil Queen of Secrets, an overpowering figure who has a terribly devious plan that threatens to upset the balance of the world, and rip its fabric apart.
A number of memorable characters strut across the stage – Dara, the Slayer with “deep, soul-crushing heartbreak” in his jewel-blue eyes who has been hunting monsters for centuries, the handsome Dwai who has a secret in his past that makes him uniquely himself, the winsome Menaka, the bent Dakini (shades of Manthara?) and a Minotaur-like creature in the Tower under Hera’s control.
Who is Ardra and why is she different from her fellow Yakshis? “What the Yakshis didn’t have was freedom. What they lacked was destiny.” However, Ardra proves this statement wrong, as she survives catastrophes, more often than not, unwittingly. The novel starts off like an orchestra, instrument by solitary instrument, and plays on till it reaches a crescendo as strong forces face one another in the New War that is fought, till wrongs are made right and memories restored.
What takes this book beyond the realm of mere fantasy is the beauty of the language employed by the author. A few examples go thus:
“The music was her, her eyes were full of the strange creatures in the sea, green like new magic from the skies” and secrets that glowed “faintly in forgotten corners, in mysterious mind-nooks, in lost memory maps.” Such exquisite usages, the concept of the sun blooms and the description of the Enchanted Forest of the Fireflies make this book a work of literary art.
Sukanya seems to take parallels from Greek literature when she talks of Tarini, the River of Death, and its boatman, and Hera who is strangely Medusa-like.
The book also mirrors the concerns of the journalist within the author as Ardra says, “The stories I heard on Prithvi about what humans did to one another were sometimes so unsettling that it felt as though the lines between our worlds were blurring.” This was echoed by Dwai later when he remarked, “Sometimes there is no difference between humans and monsters; the lines are blurring.”
And as you put the book away, your mind still bustling with the vivid imagery, the fragrance of the winsome Yakshi with “the frangipani-shaped magical tattoo on the inside of her wrist,” remains with you.