Title: Yama's Lieutenant and the Stone Witch; Author: Anuja Chandramouli; Publisher: Penguin Random House India; Pages: 320; Price: Rs 299 Averting an apocalypse is no easy task even for the mortal deputy of the Hindu Lord of the Death, and his powerful friends, for it carries a huge cost. Not only does it entail painful sacrifices, it will require him to go back in time to undo an act that had consequences he could have never envisaged.
And Agni Prakash, Yama's Lieutenant, will learn the hard way how cruelty and kindness can be interchangeable.
In the second installment of her Yama's Lieutenant series, Anuja Chandramouli, who is fast shaping into India's storyteller of the gods, fashions another rivetting story of primordial evil, thwarted desires, painful partings but eventual redemption -- of sorts.
A range of unexplained but bestially savage killings have been going on in slums, and places housing the dregs of human society such as jails, by a range of invulnerable and bestial killers. Matters however escalate when a powerful sorceress appears before a race of supernatural beings of "truth seekers" and humanity's unseen protectors and destroys them and their world wholesale.
Agni Prakash, who is meanwhile on vacation after being engaged in his usual task of collaring and despatching demons and ghosts to Yama's thousand hells for their due punishment, is visited by the spirit of these beings' chief and asked to stop the sorceress, who seeks to eradicate most of the human race for her vision of a new, "ideal" world.
But this, Agni is told, will be a challenging task for he will have to find the Samayakalas, the mysterious and concealed keepers of time, and persuade them to tell him the precise act that led to the rise of the sorceress and her bestial forces of darkness that he must undo.
Running parallel is the story of a spurned consort of Yama and how she finds solace and how her well-meaning acts for the daughter of the woman who supplanted her backfire.
Meanwhile, as humanity is beset on all sides by a unseen, unstoppable force and civilisation collapses, Agni will find that even his powerful friends, including a nature spirit and a magic-wielding woman, and allies like an invulnerable cosmic hero and a soldier may not be enough.
What is the game-plan -- or rather the story -- of the sorceress, who easily captures Agni and his friends and both tortures and cossets him? Will Agni be able to complete his mission to find the timelords and turn back the clock? And above all, what will he have to pay for it, and will he be able to win his heart's desire -- being reunited with an unfairly snatched away sister?
The rather surprising and unexpected denouement continues right till the final page as the Silver Goddess -- whom readers of the first book will know was the one who got Agni Prakash into his work -- will makes her appearance at last to counsel Agni.
While Chandramouli, who has earlier made some singular retellings of the stories of Arjuna, the middle Pandava; love god Kamadeva, his consort, Rati, and their curious fate; and Shakti, the divine feminine, has again plumbed the not-so-known depths of Indian mythology, and her own fecund imagination to fashion another disturbing but absorbing tale, there are a couple or so of jarring points, compared to the earlier tale.
First, the language sometimes gets too earthy, the violence too graphically described and some scenes a little too salacious or incongruous (specially the last meal), some stretches of the narrative not jelling or cropping up suddenly, and finally, there is no sense of definite closure -- as reciting the fate of some characters in black and white rather than as implied.
But then possibly the author could still surprise us yet -- and remedy them in the subsequent installments.
Apart from these niggling issues, Chandramouli has fashioned another thriller that may entrance you -- and leave you queasy at some parts -- but one that you will not be able to abandon as you gain some valuable insights into the lives of humans, who frequently forget they are only mortal, and think they can master destiny.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at email@example.com)