Solomon Kane and the Medusa Curse

“This upstart thinks he is the new God of love. And it almost seems as if he is. The girls are all so crazy over him.”

“Calm down, son! And tell your mother everything right from the beginning.”

Adonis poured out his entire tale of woe to his mother Aphrodite. Solomon was a theater artist who had made his debut with the iconic play “I made love.” From thereon he had gone on to do more plays - “Are you my brother’s keeper?”, “Stone Blossoms” and “The stud”. With every passing play his popularity had been growing by leaps and bounds. All the girls were totally charmed with his melting puppy eyes and were laughing themselves silly over his feeble jokes and childish pranks. He was becoming the new icon of love and the God of love feared being displaced from his position.

“This is nothing new for us, my dear. Many of these earthly beings forget themselves and try to raise themselves to the levels of Gods and Goddesses. We have shown every one of them their place as we will this new lover boy.”

“I want to make him pay dearly for his audacity, mother.”

“Do you remember Medusa, dear?”

A smile lit up on Adonis’ face.

                                                                    * * * * * * *

“I am home, dear.”

A comely lass came rushing towards him and flung herself into his arms. After passing his hands over various regions of her anatomy, he loosened his grip and stepped aside to pull out his sweaty shirt. The anticipation in the girl’s eyes to feast themselves upon his ripping muscles and well-toned abdomen was unmistakable.

But the moment his naked skin came into view, the admiration and anticipation turned into horror. Like in a trance she walked towards him, pulled out the belt from around his waist and began to whip herself with it.

“Please stop, dear. Please stop!”

But she went on whipping herself and red welts began to appear all over her exposed skin. He snatched the belt from her.

“What are you doing?”

The front door was open and there stood one of his theater colleagues Roy of the Obers.

“Is this how you abuse one of our fellow colleagues, Solomon? I never thought this of you.”

“No. I didn’t….”

Her trance broken, she ran into the newcomer’s arms and he led her away. The whole incident had scared her so much that she began to avoid Solomon. Whenever he tried to approach her or Roy to explain, they raised the alarm. The story of him being caught mistreating his lover had spread all over town and people were turning against him.

One of the things he liked to do when he was upset was to go for a ride in the woods. That had such a soothing effect on him. He decided to take a ride to forget all the worries over his lover’s puzzling behavior.

The woods were lovely, dark and deep. But it was summer and the sun too beat on relentlessly, its rays cutting their way relentlessly through the canopy of trees. He was sweating profusely and his shirt had become wet and sticking close to his body. He decided to pull out his shirt to make himself more comfortable.

The moment he pulled out his shirt, a couple of deer that were strolling leisurely in the vicinity, stopped in their tracks as if turned to stone. Then right in front of his eyes, they impaled themselves on their antlers and fell dead. Before he could recover from the shock of what he had seen, he was surrounded by the king’s guards.

Everyone refused to believe his story. He was accused for hunting in the king’s forests and was thrown in prison like a common criminal. His luck was going from bad to worse. But all was not lost. The king happened to be a patron of theater and arts. So in view of Solomon’s exemplary services towards the cause of development of arts in the kingdom, he decided to issue a royal pardon.

Though he was a free man, his popularity had now dipped to its nadir. If we walked on the streets, people just shrank away like cockroaches into their holes when a dark room was lit. His fellow actors avoided him like plague. No playwrights came up to him new play offers.

He too began to confine himself to his quarters, spending his time brooding over his fate. Why had this happened to him? To one such as him with heart of the purest gold! He decided to lie low and avoid coming in public view. Maybe with time everything would blow over and he would regain his place in the people's hearts. After all they were human as was he. And short public memory was the essence of being human.

The next few days passed by uneventfully. Then one day he was overcome by a desire to go on a ride around the city. He decided to do the tour in the night when the streets would be empty. That way he wouldn’t have to face the hostile crowds.

As he rode through the streets old memories flooded his mind. The days when his chariot passed through the busy streets and how everyone would throng around it to catch a glimpse of him. He would then take off his shirt and wave to them and the girls would go into hysterical shrieking. Oh  for those days! If but just one more time he could experience such a moment. Still lost in those dreams, he had pulled of his shirt and waving to the empty streets.

Before he knew what was happening, two men in ragged clothes emerged out of nowhere and fell in front of the chariot’s wheels.

“Stop! Stop!” he yelled. But it was too late. The heavy wooden wheels had rolled over the two of them and instantly relieved them of their earthly miseries. Now he would be blamed for this too. And this time it was murder. What was he to do? The faulty was in his stars.

                                                                           * * * * * *

“That was a master stroke, my dear son. You have made the Gods proud. Even Athena could not have thought of something so diabolical.”

Adonis had a contented smile like a cat that had had its fill of cream.

“I got the idea from your mention of Medusa, mother. I just improvised upon it."

Kissing Circles - Review

For long I have stopped taking books for reviews. But now and then I take up one if someone I am well acquainted with has written a book and wants me to review it for them. So here comes my review of the book “Kissing Circles.” by Nitin Tewari. I picked up the Kindle copy . So I can’t comment on the cover design, paper texture and other production values. Therefore I will straight away get on to the story.

My overall impression about this book I would say was quite positive. I found this book much better than many of the popular Indian best sellers published by the big publishing houses while catering to more or less the same audience. Why I found it so, we will get there presently and also have a look at some of the things that could have greatly improved the book.

The overall story line was quite sound. The theme of two North Indian boys going to Kerala to join as trainees at an IT company and through their association with a local colleague, getting involved in a high Adrenalin drama pertaining to a local tradition is quite an interesting theme. The author has done a good job taking us through the characters of the two North Indian boys, their Keralite colleague and the protagonist of the local drama – the captain of one of the boat teams for the annual race. He displays very good understanding of the characters of his protagonists and brings out their desires, aspirations and thoughts very well. The drama builds up nicely from around a third of the book and manages to keep the reader hooked.

The other strong element of the book is the research the author has done on the local culture and traditions. We get to learn the history of the local people, their traditions, the origins and the social milieu. So if nothing, somebody who has read this book would have learnt something useful about Kerala. 

The language in the book is decent but quite inconsistent. At some places, it looks simple and in others it looks more refined. I am not sure if this has to do with the author’s innovative approach of having each chapter told from a  different point of view - first person narrative of the main characters, omniscient third person point of view, third person object on the wall narrative and also actual narratives by Gods and odd objects. Talking of this narrative approach itself, while I appreciate the author’s attempt to innovate, this did not work out so strongly. There was no obvious reason why this form of narrative had to be chosen from a storytelling perspective except for the sake of sheer novelty. And the writing by itself did not stand out so differently between the various narratives for the reader to be able to recognize immediately who is narrating without seeing the chapter title.

The book title "Kissing Circles" was something I really liked. It is really intriguing and has the reader thinking.The explanation for this that comes around mid way through the book and the way author links it at a physical and metaphorical level was interesting. I would have probably liked to see more of the kissing circle idea thread through the story.

The starting was a bit slow and many readers may be tempted to put off the book at this stage itself. While reading about the life of trainee engineers in a software company brought back some old memories for me, I did not find these chapters particularly interesting. Nor was I too keen to learn about the competitive landscape in the software industry and tit bits about the software industry  keep popping up regularly throughout the story. If the author had started in the middle with the boat races coming in the first chapter itself, things might have been much more interesting.

The book has no strong female characters and might feel a bit misogynistic in the overall tone, especially in the sections narrated by the two north Indian boys. But then that is exactly how the mindset of young Indian engineering graduates tends to be. I can vouch for that having been through that phase. So it can be justified as a realistic portrayal of the characters he has made the protagonists of his story.

In terms of plot and narrative, I feel he could have done a much better job in the sequencing of events, blending exposition with the story line, deciding between realism and fantasy, choosing which events to highlight and which to push to the background etc. A strong developmental editor would have really helped in all these elements and added much value.

Overall a light breezy read that I would recommend to most people. If someone doesn't find the initial few pages interesting, I would suggest to skim through and hang on till at least till the boat races make their appearance.

The book can be purchased here on Amazon.

An Elf's Lament

The dark one is rising. We stand by and watch helplessly. We alone cannot stand against him. He is too powerful for us. We need the other races to stand with us when we make the final stand against him. Especially the dwarves! If the dwarves stand with us, we have a good chance of preventing his ascent. Together we can banish him from the earth. But the filthy dwarves just don’t understand. Why do they not see the greater cause? Why do they still continue to hold those petty grudges? We have treated them with disdain in the past and have caused lot of affront to their race. But there was no real malice on our part. It was just the natural order of things. As higher races, we have greater understanding of the world, a greater empathy towards all life. The behavior of creatures driven by their baser instincts sometimes infuriates us. In our frustration, we might have said or done things that they may have perceived as insults to them. But do these kind of minor irritants matter when we are faced with such grave danger?

Many of our elves also do not understand the need to bring around the dwarves. They still continue to rile against the dwarves and spew venom against them day in an day out. Don’t they understand we need the dwarves if we are to have a real fighting chance against the dark one? I absolutely agree with them that dwarves are a filthy, violent race with a natural disposition towards evil. But still shouldn’t we at least make an attempt to bring them over? I have tried talking to them and telling them to tone down their rhetoric. They say the dwarves just do not care about the future of the world. That they are unconcerned about what evil the dark one will wreak upon this earth. That we need to consider them as minions of the dark one and go for all-out war against them. Exterminate the vermin before they go and join their master. I fully understand their sentiments. However one must see things from the perspective of the low life as well. It is not true that the dwarves do not care about anything at all. They do care. They care about their own pitiful pelts. They care about their own pathetic clans and families, their base craft and their fragile egos. The key to winning them over is to listen to them and understand them. Even a cur desires to be understood. He doesn’t just come over and fawn at your feet on his own accord. One needs to think from his perspective, his need for food and his need for love. Once you understand and throw him some crumbs, maybe even a bone and give a few pats, he is yours.

I am doing my bit to reach out to the dwarves. I have organized banquets and sent invitations to the world below asking the dwarves to come and join us. I have made it clear to them that my door is open to even the basest and filthiest of them. Still hardly any of them ever turn up. I wonder why. Is the hatred against elves so deep rooted in them? They always say we don’t respect them. We don’t treat them as equals. But when I try to reach out to them, when I attempt to humor them, they just don’t seem to respond. I even had my last messenger explicitly tell them that I would even welcome evil servants of the dark. Still not one turned up. How much more can one do?

As the days pass by, I am losing hope. The signs are becoming more ominous. We stand alone watching helplessly as the dark one looms dangerously across the horizon. The more belligerent of our kind are growing louder by the day. And rightly so given the behavior of those vile dwarves. But I am still trying to convince them to be more reconciliatory. That we need the dwarves on our side. On my part, I continue to reach out to the dwarves and keep sending out messages, even though they seem to be falling on deaf ears. I don’t know what the fate awaits the world. But till my breath holds, I shall do my part.

The Tournament

I hate this place. I totally hate this place! What a majestic being I was supposed to be and what these humans have reduced me to! We were supposed to be the king of the skies and our very appearance used to strike fear in the hearts of these puny humans. I wouldn’t know though. I have only heard the old ridgeback in the next stall talk about those times.  This stall is all I remember from the day I was born. Except of course the tournament.

Ah! The tournament! That was one of those occasions I really felt like myself. There would be an entire field for me to move around. And there would be a young human who would play with me. Even in my pathetic state, I can easily kill the human with a single swipe of my claws if I choose to. But we dragons traditionally liked to play with our food. Not that the human would be our food though. I have been advised not to get too adventurous in the games. The old Ridgeback has told me scary tales of adventurous dragons being put down for winning the tournament. Apparently it is rigged in such a way that the human always wins. If a human wins, he is celebrated. If a dragon wins, he is a put to death.   It is good exercise though as long as we don’t kill or seriously maim the human- the nearest I shall ever get to our true legacy. Anyways thinking about legacy does not help. For it is lost to us for good. From glorious hunters we were reduced to game animals – these humans hunted us mercilessly. Initially that was fine – we enjoyed the game too. More often than not it was the dragon hunter who wound up dead. Till their weapons got more powerful.

But that was not the end. From being hunted, we were tamed and made into steeds to fly the humans around the sky. But the worst was yet to come. Now the humans have better means to fly. So they have no use for us anymore. Well, not exactly. We still have some use for them. Or rather our blood does. Apparently it has magical properties. That is the sole reason they still keep us alive. Like plants. Bloody plants. Blood producing plants. That is what we are for them. That is why they don’t even give us names these days. Whoever had heard of a plant or a machine having names?

My reverie was disturbed by humans shouting outside. “We fight for the right of magical beasts to a dignified life!”

Yes! I liked the sound of it. Dignified life! For starters they could let me hunt my own food instead of feeding me bucket loads of dead fowl. The dead chickens are so bland and tasteless. Like my life. 
“This whole thing is so disgusting.  Magical people for magical animals won’t stand for it.”

Yeah! That’s the spirit. Come, my dear human. Come and get me released. I have had enough of this prison life. There is hardly room even to flap my wings. It is a wonder they have not just withered away. Apparently we dragons were famous for our fire. And I grew up without even knowing what fire was. They maintain our stalls so cold that we can hardly produce any fire. But the tournament is different. We are out in the open and we are free to give vent to all the fire that has been burning within our belly for years. I wish the tournament rules allowed us to kill the human though. That would have been fun. Come on! It is fair game. The humans are allowed to kill us. So why not the other way round?

“We find this whole idea repulsive. A magical beast is not a play thing to be used for sport. We will not allow the tournament to take place. Down with the tournament!”

What! No tournament? Is that what these humans are protesting against? And not a word against the farms? Indeed! We are not a plaything to be used for sport; we are blood producing machines. I should have known better. The tournament is a trivial thing for them. Probably the ones protesting don't even like any form of sports. But blood for their magic is a different thing, eh? When it comes to that, who care about the dignity of animals and such stuff? As they say blood is thicker than water. What else can you expect from these humans? My little pleasure also denied. I really wish I could kill some humans.  

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces