A masterpiece made new for a generation of readers who ought to be very grateful indeed to Menon.

THE RAMAYANA

THE GREAT INDIAN EPIC RENDERED IN MODERN PROSE

One of the ancient world’s great verse epics is retold in energetic English prose in this sparkling volume, the work of an obviously accomplished Indian novelist and journalist.

The Ramayana, or “Tale of [Prince] Rama,” was composed in seven books containing 24,000 couplets by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki, around 300 b.c. It’s the “shorter” Indian (Hindu) epic (compared with its massive counterpart, The Mahabharata), a much-loved classic that continues to inspire works of visual art and dramatic performance. Like the epics of Homer and Milton, The Ramayana straddles earth and the unearthly regions, beginning with the bargain that malevolent “demon king” Ravana makes with the god Siva, who gives the mortal supernatural strength (but not immortality). The tale then focuses on childless King Dasaratha of Ayodha, the gift of four sons (borne by four wives) granted him by the god Vishnu, and the exploits of Dasaratha’s favorite son Rama (a “perfect man” who is in fact an incarnation of Vishnu). Some of this rich story’s most dramatic sequences include the contest of strength in which Rama wins the hand of the beautiful Sita (as much a paragon of virtue as himself); the intrigue perpetrated by one of his father’s wives, that consigns Rama to 14 years’ wandering in a vast forest; the abduction of Sita by Ravana, and the arduous process whereby Rama defeats the powerful demon and wins back his bride; and the ordeal by fire through which the ostensibly compromised Sita triumphantly proves her fidelity, and is fully reunited with her husband. A fascinating further dimension is added when Rama joins forces with Sugriva, King of the Monkeys, which creatures, led by their brave general Hanuman, enable the prince to infiltrate and destroy the demon-king’s evil empire. Nor is rousing adventure all that’s offered here. The characterizations of heroic Rama, stoical Sita, Rama’s stalwart brother Lakshmana, and especially the satanic Ravana are unusually full, complex, and preternaturally vivid.

A masterpiece made new for a generation of readers who ought to be very grateful indeed to Menon.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-86547-660-8

Page Count: 732

Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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DUNE

This future space fantasy might start an underground craze.

It feeds on the shades of Edgar Rice Burroughs (the Martian series), Aeschylus, Christ and J.R. Tolkien. The novel has a closed system of internal cross-references, and features a glossary, maps and appendices dealing with future religions and ecology. Dune itself is a desert planet where a certain spice liquor is mined in the sands; the spice is a supremely addictive narcotic and control of its distribution means control of the universe. This at a future time when the human race has reached a point of intellectual stagnation. What is needed is a Messiah. That's our hero, called variously Paul, then Muad'Dib (the One Who Points the Way), then Kwisatz Haderach (the space-time Messiah). Paul, who is a member of the House of Atreides (!), suddenly blooms in his middle teens with an ability to read the future and the reader too will be fascinated with the outcome of this projection.

With its bug-eyed monsters, one might think Dune was written thirty years ago; it has a fantastically complex schemata and it should interest advanced sci-fi devotees.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1965

ISBN: 0441013597

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Chilton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1965

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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