Sheth (Prince Rama Son of the Solar Dynasty, 2012) retells the Ramayana for a contemporary audience in this YA novel.
In the distant past, King Dasharatha, the emperor of the world, finds himself summoned to fight in a battle of the immortals: “The horizon was black with blood-drinkers. The shining ones on Dasharatha’s side floated above the ground, emanating golden light; the enemy seemed to emerge from the darkest of hells.” Dasharatha hopes to fulfill an old prophecy—that a man of his line would bring the destruction of Ravana, the blood-drinker king. Dasharatha manages to survive the battle, but Ravana never entered the field; the emperor realizes he must return home and sire sons, one of whom may be the member of the Sun Dynasty, to finally defeat the demon king. The favorite son turns out to be Rama: green-hued and the best loved among his brothers, though also the subject of envy and nefarious plots. He is destined to encounter Sita, a princess of supernatural birth, whose behaviors speak of either astounding gifts or an unsound mind. Like Rama, Sita seems to be related to a prophecy surrounding the downfall of Ravana. The fates of the two young nobles become intertwined, and their adventures attain such significance that they will be passed down over the millennia. The first work in a trilogy, this novel will be followed soon by a second volume. Brilliant full-color illustrations by Johansson, which render the fantasy world in all its fearsome beauty, accompany the text. Sheth places particular importance on the female characters in her account, imbuing them with strength and pathos. These include Manthara, the persecuted hunchback; the Vishakanyas, virgins raised to have a deadly, poisonous touch; the spirited Kaikeyi; and the ethereal, misunderstood Sita. In his foreword, Philip Lutgendorf writes that telling one’s own version of the Ramayana is as much a part of the tradition as the story itself. With this book, Sheth offers young readers a Ramayana with all the grandeur of myth but also with rounded, relatable human characters who give the story some needed emotional weight.
An impressive recounting of an ancient South Asian legend.