Amish is one of the rare self-published authors - like Amanda Hocking and E.L. James - who made it big before selling their books to a legacy publisher. When Jo Fletcher announced she'd picked up the rights for the Shiva trilogy, my interest was immediately piqued by its subject matter. I love retellings of myths and legends and origin stories and here was a whole new pantheon for me to discover. However, The Immortals of Meluha is far more than the retelling of the story of Shiva; it is also a showcase for Hindu philosophy, for the core teachings of Shiva, for a world view that will be unfamiliar to most of the readers that pick up this English translation. And while the story was very good and I found the philosophical underpinnings quite interesting, the writing felt rather uneven and often distracted from the narrative.
I found the writing to be uneven for several reasons. In places it was rather info dumpy; Shiva is taken aside by a Pandit, a priest, several times and given some of the core teaching of the Meluhan faith to ponder and to bolster his confidence, but these lectures are a thin veil between the author and the reader and it's hard to not hear Amish speak through the Pandits. Similarly, a lot of information on Meluhan society is conveyed through people lecturing Shiva, who is a foreigner, on its laws and traditions or reacting to his faux-pas. Especially these latter became somewhat repetitive. What I found most problematic, however, was the vocabulary and word use. The book is set in 1900 BC, but at times the prose and dialogue feels rather modern. This might be due to it being a translated work. Hindi is apparently notoriously difficult to translate when it comes to SFF concepts and in addition, Amish uses many traditional titles and the like that were kept, but explained with an added clause, which disturbed the rhythm of the narrative for me. Unfortunately, it's impossible to know whether this is something which is also included in the original text, or whether this was necessary for the translation. The only way to discover it would be to compare the Hindi to the English and as I don't speak or read Hindi, that's going to be rather difficult.
Despite all of this, the story of a young chieftain brought to live in a paradisiacal land of milk and honey, who discovers there are worms in the apples and the milk is going off and he's the prophesied saviour who'll put everything right is quite compelling. While one could say that this is a classic Hero's Journey story, but its philosophical bent makes it interesting and different. Shiva is a well-developed character, who comes across as a real human, with a boisterous sense of humour, a strong sense of honour and duty, and deep emotions, but also one who is flawed, unsure of his own competence and addicted to drugs to avoid his haunting past. Despite these flaws, I really rather liked him. While the book very much fails the Bechdel test, it does have an interesting female lead in Sati, who is not just interesting as a romantic partner for Shiva, but also in her own right, as a strong woman who holds to her own principles, even when it goes against her desires. They are surrounded by an interesting cast though some of them tended to come across as rather one note, such as King Daksha, whose overwhelming adulation of Shiva becomes a little tiring if he's around for too long and General Parvateshwar, whose reluctance to accept Shiva's identity is as tiring, though his eventual acceptance becomes all the more satisfying for it.
The Immortals of Meluha is thought-provoking as it presents its readers with philosophical theories and concepts that are worth examining more closely. The chance to explore a different sensibility and setting from the usual Western European, medieval setting was refreshing as well. Despite its flaws, Shiva's story is an exciting adventure, which is insidiously compelling; you won't notice you've been hooked by the story, until you're nearly to the end. It does end on a cliff hanger of the sort we usually only see in TV series' season's finales and it took me both by surprise and frustrated me, as it'll be the end of April before the next book comes out and we get to discover what happens. For those looking for a different setting from the usual, The Immortals of Meluha is definitely one to check out.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.