The Gameworld Trilogy [4/5]

Take a book, Sambo, a blank book. Yes, any book will do, as long as it's empty. Now make up a good fantasy plot, with the grandioseness of, if not the complexity of, say the Lord of the Rings - a nice good true-to-fantasy Good versus Evil plot. It's all up to you, however, to decide who's good and who's not, and when, but the plot has to be flawless. Then you create some lovely characters. Humans and human-forms first, if you really ask me. You can make the monsters and the aliens any way you like, but the humans should be well-formed characters. Characters one can identify with. Then you create a lot more characters, but this time, making them delightfully absurd. How, you ask? Well, for example, you can have a three-headed bartender, for one. How about a frog swathing in self-pity. Or maybe a James-Bond-ish dwarf. Anything sufficiently absurd or counterpointish would do. Now, think of all the fantasy books you've read. I know you haven't read many, but the few you have, will have to do. Mull them all over and plant tiny tantalizing references in your story. Adopt a playful narrative style if you can. Now, now, what've you got?

* * *

The Simoqin Prophecies It's not everyday that you stumble upon an absolute delight of a book, as happened with me and The Simoquin Prophecies about a year back at Blossoms, my favourite book joint in Bangalore. Well, yes, it has a rather slow start (intriguing nevertheless: imagine an enterprising rabbit planning a book titled "There and Back Again: The Adventures of One Rabbit"), but once you're through a couple of chapters, you're on a ride. And the pace stays at a gallop through the whole of Samit Basu's GameWorld Trilogy, of which Simoquin is part one. The books are consistently funny for the most part, and where they're not, there's some real good swashbuckling action. Unputdownable, end of the day. Even if it may, at first look, look like a series tied together with references, from The Hobbit to Asterix to Monty Python to martial arts monks to The Four Horsemen to The Ramayana to whatnot, there's a nice storyline, complete with loads of save-the-world category of stuff, and more.

For all their weird and fantastic abilities, both Kirin and Maya are, um, delightfully familiar. People you want to get to know. I haven't ever seen as lovely a female character in SF/F as Maya (Hermione comes fairly close, but can't think of anyone else at all). And the other lead - Asvin, the hero - is an acquaintance as well, since, well, we've seen a lot of heroes, right? Turning stereotypes around is something Samit does rather well (kinda Terry-Pratchettish, don't you think?). Sample here:
Thog (the barbarian) tied back his long, prematurely greying hair, reapplied the fake scar to his left cheekbone and sprinkled on his favourite perfume. League Rule 2:3 stated you had to look exactly like your wooden action figure - the scar, for example, he'd had to wear since the first Thog the Barbarian toy (Plain Rugged Adventurer of the Rugged Plains: Free Replica Battle-Axe!) had been scratched accidentally by the toy-maker. - The Manticore's Secret
The Manticore's Secret The character of Red is again extremely interesting. She doesn't have a name (only a colour), but she has voices in her head that have names, and personalities and preferences and prejudices. Something like split personalities coexisting at the same time instant, just that it's split twice, er, thrice actually. And when they argue among themselves, pull each others' legs and plot against each other, it's mayhem. Outlandish, yet very real.

Like any decent fantasy, there's a Dark Lord, and a very human one at that. One who's trying to figure out how best to do his job. Of being a Dark Lord and all that. Surprisingly, the serious plot stuff and the funny tickle-your-elbow stuff co-exist comfortably:
The Dark Lord sneezed and felt very sheepish, because Dark Lords weren't supposed to catch colds... His magical healing powers could weave flesh and bone, but had not yet evolved enough to cure the common cold. - The Manticore's Secret
I also loved the way romance is handled - smooth, natural and, er, unbridled? Meaning, no giving a damn about what's the norm for the good fellas to do in books, when they're still all good. While Simoqin is something of the "norm" stuff in this sense (The scene where Maya first meets Asvin, at the Frags, is classic hilarious romantic comedy fare), books two and three, are well, not suitable reading for kids.

The Unwaba Revelations The Simoqin Prophecies
, being fresh and innocent, is easily my favourite among the three. It has a chugging pace, and it revolves around people like you and me (not exactly, but atleast not on the likes of Dark Lords and alien powers). Maya (with her diary entries) is just adorable here. The Manticore's Secret has a lot more visual action (Myrdak attacking Vanarpuri is beautifully written), and also turns inside out our perspectives of Good and Evil that we'd built on book one. It has a stunningly written chapter of Behrim riding a horse's mind through a landscape of the Dark Tower's illusory horrors, and being chased by a pack of werewolves. It so reminds me of LOTR: The Return of The King where all the action is of the mind. Part three, The Unwaba Revelations, published last December, is all about wars, and The Gods. The battles of the war are brilliantly described, the focus panning on to strategy and the big fellas, and then zooming down to individual action, showing what it all means to the soldier on the field, even describing the politics between soldiers and commanders in the armies. If you look hard, and use a bit of imagination, you can even find some philosophy at times, in all three books, maybe a bit more of it in the third.

The names Samit comes up with are an irreverent delight in themselves: A stalactroll is a troll made of limestone stalactites, and Al-Ugobi is a desert in Artaxerxia. The three-headed bartender is called Triog. A vanar king called Bali, a highwayman called Tlotlot, crows called Maverick and Yahoo, and to cap it all, storks going by the names of S.P.Gyanasundaram, H.Sampath and O.Veerappan. I don't seem to get the significance of the name reversals though. The name of Narak, the ravian, reads back-to-front as Karan. Karan, who? On the same lines, the Dark Lord of the last era is called Danh-Gem. And a jinn called Artimagnas makes a brief appearance in book three. Either they are just there for intrigue, or I don't know my mythology well. The latter, most likely. But the unlikeliest of all is Princess Isara - I mean, I thought arasi is classical Tamil, or does Samit know a bit of Tamil, or knows someone who does?

In fact, most of the references are of the blink-and-you-miss-it kind. To give you an inkling, here is part of a side story about how, the sword of Raka (that Asvin needs for a quest), had gotten lost:
Rukmini had learned it was Akarat the rakshasi who had abducted Chorpulis, from her friend Lalmohan, the eagle, who had chased Akarat after she had abducted Chorpulis. Now Chorpulis was probably either in the rakshasi's den or in her belly, and the sword was missing too. - The Simoqin Prophecies
Missed it, right? Oh, yeah, you got that one, but not the other two, right? (Oh, right. I know. there must have been innumerable references like this I missed in the book, but the best part is that I never get to know I did. :))

End of the day, Samit does manage to create his own world, but it's not as lodged-in-my-mind as Middle Earth or Discworld. I mean, I still don't know (though I'm fairly sure it's mentioned somewhere) whether Avranti is the north of the Harmony Range of mountains or south, and I have no clue what their political stand with respect to Artaxerxia was. But there's only so much you can do in three books, and it has packed in a lot of stuff. The trilogy is an absolute fun read and I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes any of Discworld, Hitchhiker, LOTR or, yes, Potter. Read the trilogy in order though, and, if possible, keep the earlier books handy, er, for reference.


  1. Too cool ! I particularly like the prelude :)
    The comments on the Unwaba's war graphics are mine, but you may use it since I never published them... He he...
    I surely agree with "Samit does manage to create his own world". A world is not defined by having a detailed map in the first few pages of the book and inspire the reader to go peek at it every now and then, during your naration. For that matter, Discworld also does not have a sense of direction or map. The world is clearly defined in terms of what it looks like. I can picture Kol, especially from the description of it burning. That was straight from the movie Independence Day. I should be able to identify Vanarpuri if I could see it in Google maps.
    Fantasies can be classified into different genre, like "commercial" and "Parallel Fantasy". There is a time, place, mood, and patronage!

  2. Yeah, many thanks for graciously letting me use your highly precise expert observations on Unwaba - no one else in the world is eligible to make those kind of observations, really. :)

    I dont mean just the map. I mean detailedness. That exist to the point of completing the connections (like the story of Shelob), not just for fun (like the story of Chorpulis). Yeah, that's probably the difference between epics and timepass-reads, maybe (so LOTR is the only SFF "parallel-fantasy" epic then, by your defn. :)).

    (Vanarpuri reminded me of the Lara Croft movie, actually.)

  3. (Oh yeah, I loved the prelude too. Cheeky.)

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