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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Raiders from the North: Empire of the Moghul" by Alex Rutherford (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alex Rutherford is a pseudonym for the Husband-wife writing team of Michael and Diane Preston. They have written seven historical non-fiction books. They have also travelled extensively around the world. They have written a previous book about the Taj Mahal (One of the Seven Wonders of the World) and have also spent a year in India doing research and reading various historical books. Since then they have become quite attached to it and during this research they also came across the historical annals of the Mughal empire. This is their first fiction novel

PLOT SUMMARY:The epic story of the rise and fall of one of the most powerful and opulent dynasties in history. It is 1494 when the ruler of Ferghana dies in an extraordinary accident. His only son, twelve-year-old Babur, faces a seemingly impossible challenge. Young Babur is determined to live up to the example of his great ancestor, Tamburlaine - Timur the Warrior - whose conquests transformed the face of the earth from Delhi to the Mediterranean, from wealthy Persia to the wildernesses along the Volga.

But he is dangerously young to inherit a kingdom.
Before Babur can summon enough warlords to declare him the rightful king of Ferghana, plots against his crown, even his life, are hatching. And soon, as his obsession with Timur's legacy and the fabled city of Samarkand grows, and Babur becomes a man, he will discover that even the bravest and most fearless leader can be betrayed. With the wisest of advisers and most courageous of warriors by his side, Babur can achieve a great destiny and found an empire in India, but every step of his journey will be fraught with danger, in a world of tribal rivalries, rampaging armies and ruthlessly ambitious enemies.

FORMAT/INFO: Raiders From The North is 496 pages in trade paperback format divided into twenty seven named chapter chapters from four named sections. There is also a list of main characters, a sketch map, a historical note by the author as well as specific notes detailing various personae, times and places. Narration is via Third person and features Babur solely. This book ends on a proper note and is the first in possible quintet series called “Empire of the Moghul”.

It was published last year in Hardcover by Headline Review in the UK and by Thomas Dunne books in the US.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Raiders from the North is the first book chronicling the rise of the Mughal empire in the Indian subcontinent. The novel begins by introducing Babur, its progenitor who came from a humble kingdom called Ferghana in Central Asia. It describes Babur’s childhood and teenage years as he’s suddenly put into the spotlight after his father’s death due to a freak accident. This event starts a calamitous series of events which sees various factions within the court strive to put their chosen parties on the throne and showcases peril to Babur as succession to the throne means his literal death warrant. Thus begins Babur’s education in to what lies ahead and the brutal realities of ruling a kingdom and keeping it.

Babur has help from his Grandmother Esan Dawlat, who claims to be a descendant of Genghis Khan and often provides steely resolve, his mother Kutlugh Nigar and his military guide and mentor, Wazir Khan. He goes on to succeed his father as the ruler of Ferghana and then sets his eyes on the ultimate prize the city of Samakhand of Timur the Lame and goes about to claim them. Thus begins Babur’s journey which will set him to rise above his modest Ferghana origins and see him start one of the most prominent dynasties which ruled the region of the Indian Subcontinent for nearly 350 plus years and played a big hand in shaping Indian history and politics.

The book details are taken from the “Baburnama” which was Babur’s memoirs and recounted almost all of his life, his struggles, his wonders and his military acumen. It also detailed his religio-political views and way of life. It is a particularly fascinating account for any historian and for people who are interested in understanding the mind of a ruler. The authors Diane and Michael have to be commended on the spectacular job they have done in recreating the life based on the memoirs and whatever historical accounts they could assimilate. Of particular note are the spellings and certain words which have been carefully preserved and served in this book. I particularly loved the phrase “takyta-takhta” which means “Coffin or Throne”[Though this was in the chapters from the next book].

Another particular note is the ease at which the book uses a straight forward approach to tackling Indian History. Although I have previous knowledge of the history element, those that are less familiar with the historical context will have no problem following the events that are describe within this novel.

The authors have done a very wonderful job in showcasing history and this enigmatic warrior who although he was a veritable warrior was also a lover of architecture, plants and opium. The way Babur utilized the early aspects of Cannon warfare and made his destiny in a land wherein his ancestors had invaded and recounted its riches.

As an Indian and particularly an aficionado of history I know what followed was one of the greatest and most brutal empires in the world. The succeeding Mughal emperors were all enigmatic men and depending on whom you ask you will get heroic or vilifying accounts of these men. It’s safe to say that they left a mark on the land which they ruled.

I particularly love historical fiction and it’s very rare when Indian history has been mined for such purposes. Alex Rutherford has taken a welcome step in this direction and their plans are to tell the stories of the first six Mughal emperors in about 5 books is something which makes their books must reads for me. I look forward with utmost anticipation to the next book “Brothers At War” which has its plot seeds taking root in the end of “Raiders From The North”. It will be most intriguing when they get to Akbar & Aurangzeb the two most contrasting Mughal emperors; one who won universal acclaim and the other universal censure amongst their subjects!

I hope that they get to accomplish their goal of future books as there is tremedious potential and talent showcased in Raiders From The North.


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