I have many mixed emotions when it comes to this book, Stolen Hope. Also, because it has taken me the better part of 9 months to wade through it, I wonder if I am able to review it adequately. Anyway for what it is worth, here is my review.
Please note: I received this book free from the author for the purposes of reviewing it. This is not a sponsored review, apart from the book itself, and the views are my own.
Author: Shubha Vilas
Story: The story is obviously not a new one, and is a take on the famous epic Ramayana. This book, the third in the series, focuses on the time Rama, Sita, and Lakshman spend in the forest after Panchvati and hinges on the single event of Sita’s abduction by Ravan. There are a few other minor events, but the whole book appears to lead up to this point, and then tapers off into the brothers looking for her later.
I am not focusing too much on the story, because it isn’t new. It is the treatment that is of greater relevance.
Writing: I once read a translation of the Sundar Kand, another chapter of the Ramayana, exclusively dedicated to Hanuman’s solo adventures in Lanka. Since the Ramayana is originally written in verse, the descriptions tend to be flowery and overly detailed. They are repetitive and use analogies extensively. While this style works for poetry, in prose it becomes exceedingly tedious, and sometimes contradictory. This book suffer from the same problem.
The editing is very loose, and there are several words used without consideration of their meaning. Some of them actually make no sense whatsoever. Also, the detail can be extraneous and exhausting. As mentioned in the paragraph above, they appear to be direct translations, and cannot adequately convey their meanings in English. What works in Hindi or Sanskrit doesn’t not translate into English seamlessly. For example, when describing Sita’s incomparable beauty, the author compares her to the moon: a ‘moon-like’ face. Yes, in India, this is a common compliment. Not so the case in English prose. Therefore the book, albeit intended for a global audience, fails in that respect.
The book is peppered with lessons. Or rather, intense moralising. I found this aspect incredibly tedious and frankly annoying. Almost every page has several footnotes, breaking the flow of the narrative. Honestly, a well-written book has lessons that are conveyed subtly to the reader. Each reader takes away their own interpretation, and perhaps is able to glean more each time they revisit the book. To have preachy footnotes telling me how to interpret the text is awful. If this was a study guide, I would understand. But it isn’t. It is supposed to be a novelisation of the famous epic.
The overall writing is mediocre at best.
Characters: While I am cognisant of the fact that I am talking about the Ramayana, I couldn’t connect to the characters at all. It is my personal view that the epics were intended to teach through example, and even the divine made mistakes during their incarnations. In this case, the characters fell into one of two widely disparate categories: extremely good and extremely bad. The few mistakes that any of the good characters made are explained away. Yeesh. The bad characters have NO redeeming qualities. At ALL. No repentance, no anguish, no softer feelings, nothing. This was awful. How can every single character be so one-dimensional?
There is no motivation for any of the characters. Granted, this book is a part of a series, but because of this stunted character development, it cannot stand alone.
This aspect of the book was disastrous, in my opinion.
Pace: The described events could be written about in about 50 to 75 pages, and was stretched to 300 pages instead. In the beginning, there are copious descriptions of the environment and scenery which was boring to say the least. There is a little padding out, in the form of anecdotes from other characters. However, these are sometimes forcibly injected into the narrative without just cause. They serve as a distraction and unnecessary padding.
Towards the end of the book, just before and after Sita’s abduction, the pace picks up. Here I was able to blaze through without falling asleep.
Overall, the pace was uneven, and would have been vastly improved with tighter editing.
Conclusion: I finished the book only because I am compulsive like that. I also felt obliged to read it, after having received it gratis from the author’s team. I would have preferred a more refined take on the story, and believe that the author meant well. Given a choice, I would not recommend the book to anyone, nor would I read it again. And although I hate reading a single out of a series, this is one instance where I make an exception.
Aside: I was a little surprised to see the fairly good rating on Goodreads, but I then realised that mostly Hindus will pick up this book, and most will be reluctant to objectively assess a book they consider divine. I, while being a fairly devout Hindu, have no such problem. I don’t believe being objective about the writing is a reflection on the divinity of the characters at all.