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Monday, October 21, 2019

SPFBO Semifinalist Mini-Reviews: Magpie's Song by Allison Pang & Ayana by Geetha Krishnan (reviewed by Lukasz Przyswoski & Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Magpie’s Song defies easy categorization. It mixes elements of steampunk, dystopia, coming-of-age, and dark fantasy into a singular blend.

BrightStone, ruled from above by the technologically advanced Meridians, is a dangerous city rife with crime and poverty. Its citizens struggle with everyday life, lack of perspectives, and a rampaging and lethal plague known as Rot. Only Moon Children, Meridian half-breeds, seem immune to the devastating effects of the disease, and that makes them useful, but only to lead Rot victims into the dreaded Pits, a place no one returns from.

While you’ll find snippets of humor here and there, the story goes into dark places and has a serious tone overall. Titular Magpie, a Moon Child known as Raggy Maggy, is a half-breed caught between two worlds–the run-down city of BrightStone and the floating city of Meridion. When she’s framed for a crime she didn’t commit, she has to trust exiled Meridian doctor and a clanless Moon Child named Ghost to discover the cause of the Rot and the secret behind her own lineage.

Mags is a great character. An outcast who doesn’t belong anywhere. She cares for one person. She finds freedom in rooftop dancing and her prowess in climbing, leaping, gliding through the city would put most traceurs to shame. Only Ghost does it better than her.

She also has a clockwork heart, and it seems a clockwork dragon found by a Meridion’s dead body likes and follows her. An intriguing combination of the mysterious past and tenacious behavior won me over. I like Mag’s voice. Sure, she makes bizarre decisions and trusts wrong people, but hey, she’s just nineteen.

Magpie’s Song starts in the middle of the action and never slows down. Things happen, characters die, and at times I wasn’t sure where all of this was going, but I felt engaged throughout. The addition of a few subplots makes the narration unfocused in places, but at the scene level, it never disappoints.

I liked Magpie’s Song a lot and plan to follow the series.

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Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ayana by Geetha Krishnan really drew me in because as an Indian, I’m deeply familiar with Hindu epic Ramayana. For those who aren’t, a wikipedia summary might be helpful. But if you were to ask me, it’s a classic story of right versus wrong. It’s a story wherein a young prince realizes his potential and becomes the great soul  that he’s destined to be. His nemesis a cruel king succumbs to his doom, by stealing the prince’s wife, a lovely princess on her own. He signs off on his and his nation’s downfall.

That’s the simplistic version, however there’s many layers to this epic. Rama for all of his glorious nature, fails just once and it matters the most. Sita has always been an instrument between forces out her control. Ravan is one of the most complex creatures in Hindu mythology, a glorious Asura king, a great Shiva devotee and one of the most deadly warriors ever to lay foot on Jambudweepa. The author smartly decides to focus on all three and gives us a in-depth look into who they are and why they behave they do. In Hindu mythology, there’s a significant focus on past lives and how the actions/curses in those affect the current/future incarnations. The author draws upon this thread really strongly and gives us a meta look into the narrative.

For me this was the icing on the cake as I was aware of what the mythology is and the backgound for this epic and the characters within. The author showcases this and perhaps that’s why this isn’t Ramayana but just Ayana and each Rama, Sita & Ravan have their own journeys and role in this story. In some ways this is more of a tragic story than the other Hindu epic Mahabharata as it draws clear cut lines about who was right and who was wrong. But if one truly looks at the undercurrents, then this is as conflicted a story as the Mahabharata. The author tries to highlight a lot of these moral underpinings and this perhaps might get lost on those who don’t know the background details. She tries her best to shine a lot on these aspects but not all of it might be crystal clear.

The writing style is very simplistic and makes this epic saga seems very easy to dwell into. The action sequences make for fun reading but aren’t the smoothest in conveying every ebb and flow. The story overall is neatly compacted and presented in a slim volume. In this regards, some readers will like the author for her efforts but some might castigate her for minimizing its complex charm.

Overall I enjoyed this wonderful dive into Indian mythology and I thought it worthy of being a semifinalist. Give it a chance if you wish to give a shot at something quite quite different in the fantasy genre.

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