Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: Brothers at War


Brothers at War
By Alex Rutherford
Headline Review,
427 pages, Rs 495


The second enthralling installment in Alex Rutherford's Empire of the Moghul series. 1530, Agra, Northern India. Humayun, the newly-crowned second Moghul Emperor, is a fortunate man. His father, Babur, has bequeathed him wealth, glory and an empire which stretches a thousand miles south from the Khyber pass; he must now build on his legacy, and make the Moghuls worthy of their forebear, Tamburlaine. But, unbeknown to him, Humayun is already in grave danger. His half-brothers are plotting against him; they doubt that he has the strength, the will, the brutality needed to command the Moghul armies and lead them to still-greater glories. Perhaps they are right. Soon Humayun will be locked in a terrible battle: not only for his crown, not only for his life, but for the existence of the very empire itself.

Bring on Akbar Mint

A few chapters into the first book in the Empire of the Moghul trilogy, Raiders from the North, and I was hooked. And a little embarrassed for it. If a review request hadn’t been forthcoming, I would have never ever picked up a copy of Alex Rutherford’s debut. I am not a snob by any means, and I have the Ludlums to prove it, but period fiction just isn’t my cup of tea.

If I want to immerse myself in period literature, why not choose a well-written history? And if I must read fiction, why not pick up something like Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland or even the Fake IPL Player’s book? Both fictional but within an identifiable context.

Period fiction requires two leaps of my imagination. My imagination, I was under the impression, was not so leapy. And then I read the excellent ‘Raiders from the North’. And I leapt verily!

That book was an engaging, well-balanced work that told the story of Babar’s impossible rise to power and the genesis of the Mughal empire. The book had a certain cinematic heft to it, with a TV documentary-like treatment of the dramatic and the historic. In that context it was also a book that went well with the contemporary need to dramatize history. Big budget TV series such as The Tudors, Band of Brothers and the more recent The Pacific all explain spans of history through the feelings, lusts, fears and thrills of their protagonists.

Not with maps and relics, but with sex and savagery

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