Friday, April 25, 2014

26. The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

The Jewel in the Crown is the first book in the much acclaimed The Raj Quartet. Set during the British Raj of India, the first book in the series tracks the events that unfolded in the town of Mayapore. The story revolves around young Kumar, an Indian brought up in Britain, but who returns to India under after his father's death, friendless, penniless, in a country he has nothing in common with, other than the colour of his skin - the identity crisis he faces as neither the British in India, nor the Indians recognise him as one of their own - and Daphne Manners, a young British girl who finds herself caught under extraordinary circumstances, culminating in her tragic rape, even if her story doesn't end there - indeed, the strength of her character shines through after the aforementioned tragedy. The book has various other remarkable characters, be it the Rajput born princess, Lili Chatterjee, the British officers (both pro and anti Indian), a couple of remarkable ladies, who serve India and Indians in their own ways, one through education, the other by providing healthcare to those for whom no one, not even their fellow countrymen care.

I started this book, with a very skeptic frame of mind, like I usually do whenever reading books based on India, by either Indian authors (for playing to the stereotypes) or foreign ones (for just not getting it right). The premise of the book was specially an explosive one, even if the current generation of Indians blame the politics and policies of the last 60 years of Indian governance rather than the 150 years of British dominion (including 90 years of the British Raj). The author, however, managed to avoid taking sides by presenting the story from the point of view of the amazingly well conceived characters. Through the eyes of those characters, the author also managed to represent the conditions, relationships, political tendencies, etc. of both the communities - whom time had done more to separate than integrate, into an atypical master-servant relationship.

The author also, doesn't excuse the snobbery, high handedness and divisive politics of the British, while also highlighting the anti-social elements of the native population - the kind for whom events of instability, riots, are opportunities for rapine, loot and plunder, indiscriminately, if I may add. The fact that such elements are part of the Indian society, even in today's time and age, makes their existence in those times all the more believable.

The author only makes passing references to the Indian freedom struggle and the main characters of the same, which probably wasn't a bad idea. All considered, a well written account, rich in the depth of the characters as well as the plot of the story in all its complexity.


Monday, April 21, 2014

24. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent is the second book in the Divergent Series, a series set in a Dystopian world, where the human beings are categorised and segregated into factions, based on their dominant traits, with those failing to qualify in a faction, leading the life of factionless (not much different from our equivalent of homeless). And then, there are the divergent, individuals with multiple dominant traits, who are a closely guarded secret, a dangerous one, since they are immune to one of the critical tools used in the society, the simulations. The factions, all, serve different purposes and between themselves, manage to keep their little society functioning and self sufficient.

Like in any Utopia, things go wrong, the nature and extent of the wrongness is something the author seems to have reserved for the final installment. The second installment of the series, is not necessarily an improvement on the first. It also fails to significantly add to the storyline so far, since the series has only one more book to go, I am assuming all the action (relating to storyline, blind violence, there was plenty of in this one too) will be concentrated in Allegiant, the third and final installment of the series.

My review of Divergent, the first book of the series, can be found here.


Friday, April 18, 2014

22. Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold

I think I am doing quite well with my schedule of reading the entire Vorkosigan Saga this year. I should also, perhaps, start my review by saying that this one, so far, stands out for me as the best in the series.

This was, perhaps the first Miles book I have read, where he is downside and is still full of his usual stratagems and blunderings. The Cetagandans, both the ghem and hauts, are delightful; and then there are the haut women; who reminded me of a cooler version of Aes Sedai, though without the superpowers. I shall refrain from speaking of their other virtues, which I think Miles's inner thoughts in the book have summed up quite well.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

23. The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks

Finally a review! Even if I am the only one getting excited over the fact! This was the fourth book in the Culture Series, the version I read consisted of a number of short stories culminating with the novella titled "The State of the Art".

Short stories, as a rule, don't agree much with me, and this one proved to be no exception. Some of the stories and a few scenes were quite shocking, in their grotesqueness - that however, is far from being a reason for me not liking this installment as much as the last two. It is just that more than a few stories failed to resonate any kind of chord with me, and while some of them were quite good, on an average, I found the book, average!


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

March Summary and April Plans

So, I was barely able to fulfill my March plans to the dot with the following 7 reads:-

1. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (****)
2. The Vor Game (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold (***)
3. Use of Weapons (Book 3 of the Culture Series) by Iain M. Banks (****)
4. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (**)
5. Salem's Lot by Stephen King (***)
6. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (****)
7. The Great Influenza (Non-Fiction) by John M Barry (***)

Due to my illness this month and general paucity of time, I have decided to forego reviewing any of my March reads, April should see me resume with my reviews.

I have another 7 books lined up for April, here it goes:-

1. The State of the Art (Book 4 of the Culture Series) by Iain M. Banks
2. Cetaganda (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold
3. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
4. Ethan of Ethos (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold
5. Insurgent (Book 2 of Divergent Series) by Veronica Roth
6. Fault Lines (Non-Fiction) by Raghuram Rajan
7. The Jewel in the Crown (Book 1 of the Raj Quartet) by Paul Scott