Prince of Ayodhya (Ramayana series) (Kindle, Flipkart, my review on Amazon)
Fantastical and Highly Dramatized Retelling of the Ramayana
What if you took the basic plot of the Ramayana, and then injected it with a strong dose of fantasy? Making it read and feel like a Lord of the Rings on steroids perhaps? Ashok Banker's six-part Ramayana series attempted to do just that. For the most part it succeeds, and kept me turning pages well into the night. It is a little formulaic at times, especially in its predictable use of drama, intrigue, suspense, and heroic deeds, but some of the inventive turns are to be admired, and are mostly carried off with admirable aplomb. The sheer length of the series - at over 3000 pages - is daunting, but then, you don't have to read all of it in one go.
This is the first book in the series, and is aptly titled, "Prince of Ayodha", and it starts out with a fifteen-year old Rama, in Ayodhya, who faces off a bunch of thugs about to slaughter a young deer. The deer is actualy Shurpnakha in disguise! While the entry of Viswamitra into Ayodhya to ask King Dashratha to render the services of Rama to the sage is known, this book provides a twist to the tale. Viswamitra enters Ayodhya, almost unrecognized, but so does Maricha, the rakshas, disguised as Viswamitra. Clever, I thought. Or the use of Manthara as the secret handmaiden of Ravana, even as she serves Queen Kaikeyi. So, as you can see, well-known events in the epic get a makeover, and come out dressed up in fantasy, adventure, and hyperbolic personae. So, Vashishtha, the royal sage, is almost seven feet tall, and can use yogic powers that boggle the mind.
People looking to read a faithful adaptation of Valmiki's Ramayana should stay away from this book. However, people looking to read a page-turner of a yarn, adapted and inspired from the Ramayana, will be well-rewarded by this book, and perhaps the entire series.
I have read two books in this series. I read Siege of Mithila (Flipkart) first, for reasons that I cannot quite comprehend or explain, in 2005, I think. I read The Prince of Ayodha in 2012. That is certainly not a pace that will keep one engaged with the epic, but for what it's worth, the entire series is now available as a Kindle e-book, at the very, very appealing price of US $9.99. I.e. for less than six hundred rupees you are getting all six volumes, 3000 pages. Think of the trees you are saving!